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90m US wireless surfers expected by 2005

But narrowband will still rule

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The number of wireless surfers in the US is expected to grow to 88.6 million in 2005.

This compares to 4.1 million wire free Web users last year, according to figures from Jupiter Media Metrix.

Of these, 74.9 million will use voice-centric handsets, 7.3 million data-centric handsets, and 4.4 million online PDAs.

Jupiter got the wireless figure up to 96 million by including 7.4 million offline PDAs. But presumably these PDAs had been synced with a Net connected PC, so it's a bit debatable whether offline browsing on your PDA is wireless surfing.

Anyway, many surfers will still be destined to rely on narrowband connections. Jupiter estimates 3G broadband mobile networks will be available as a major platform in Japan in two years, but are still between four and six years away in the US and Europe.

"While the number of people in the US logging on from mobile devices is about to enter a period of rapid growth, the wireless industry must not underestimate the complexity of delivering Web services in a highly competitive and fractured environment," said Seamus McAteer, a senior Jupiter analyst.

"This means the industry must hold back on ambitious plans to deliver mobile multimedia, and instead focus on delivering simple yet practical interactive services, such as games, short messaging and location- specific directories - all of which are viable across multiple networks and narrow bandwidth."

Jupiter also warned that the future looked bleak for regional carriers of Net services, who will struggle against the national giants - and only three of these larger outfits are expected to survive until 2005. ®

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