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A bunch of Cambridge businessmen have launched a numeric-based domain name system.

Their idea is to provide an alternative to URLs with Bango numbers, which they will rent out from around £20 a year. The system is aimed at WAP or mobile Internet users, as well as PC users who want to bypass complex Web addresses.

The trio have been trialling the scheme in Cambridge this summer, but it officially launched nationwide yesterday. It has over a million numbers registered so far - most of which have been given away in the launch. The company also claims that several sought-after three digit numbers have been sold for around £10,000 each.

The concept is simple - as long as Bango can persuade companies to sign up. A Bango number is between one and fifty digits long, and can be keyed in instead of any URL via a download from the Bango.net site or through the IE5 browser. A company or individual can choose any number - which is prefixed with an exclamation mark.

The idea is designed to save time for mobile and WAP phone users who rely on a numeric keyboard. According to Peter Walker, Bango marketing VP, the average URL takes around 70 to 100 keystrokes to enter into a WAP phone - and just four or five with a short Bango number.

Walker reckons the average Wap user currently hooks up to a Wap site just once a month.

He also says there is a market in countries which do not have English as their first language. "There is fantastic interest in using numbers in places like the Far East, where long complicated URLs in English are difficult to remember," said Walker.

The company aims to be "making in-roads" into the US, Far East and Europe by the end of the year.

And Bango has already been hit with what is believed to be the first case of "cyber-number squatting".

"Someone obviously perceived the value of numbers and tried to buy the phone number belonging to EasyEverything's cybercafe," said Walker. Luckily Bango was able to scupper this attempt.

In such cases, the company has pre-registered the numbers and will offer to sell them to the respective owners. But should they decline to buy them, Walker says they will put the numbers up for sale. In his words: "It's a free market." ®

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