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CTIA Openwave, which ships more browsers than anyone else in the world, has revamped its flagship. Few of the 300m Openwave browsers shipped last year are used very much, and that's something both the company and its carrier partners want to set right.

But plenty has changed since the last major revision, V7, three years ago. The latest offering, the Mercury Browser, supports high end features such as JavaScript, and also claims to be 25 per cent faster than the competition.

There's little shortage of competition at the high end, with trailblazer Opera being pursued by Access. Microsoft and Nokia have developed their own browsers, the latter based on the KDE engine also used by Apple.

But it's Opera's Mini browser, which runs on mid-tier phones, that has really upped the stakes.

Openwave's senior VP of software engineering Jon McCormack paid tribute to Opera's engineers, but pointed out that there's no such thing as a free lunch.

"Jon and the guys did a really good job with that product - but the economics just move around. A fatter browser needs a more expensive phone, while a thinner browser means a more complicated server to crunch those pages - and someone has to pay for that," he told us.

Opera still had to decide whether it would inject ads into each page or pursue a subscription model, he added.

"We're at feature parity with the Operas, Accesses and Microsofts of the world but we're able to eke more performance out of any combination of CPU and radio."

But while service driven mobile browsing, such as bidding on eBay, might make sense - wasn't the phone always going to be second best to the serendipitous time wasting offered by the real web? When network minutes are expensive, screens small, and pages slow to render, who'd want to surf for free?

"Phones are time wasting devices too - so in the sense that a mobile browser allows you to waste time it's a good thing," insists Jon.

"You can go off and browse in the five minutes you have between meetings - and we allow a carrier to monetize that."

Speed had been the priority, he said.

In other news from CTIA, Openwave's SmartWave division expanded its "Smart Radio" offering, a streamed music download service for Java phones over 2.5G and 3G networks. It's not to be confused with Visual Radio, which is an interactive overlay to FM, or digital radio, which is... well, digital radio. ®

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