W3C Workshop on Mobile Web for Developing Countries

Volantis Systems Position Paper

Ajay Kapoor, and Rhys Lewis, Volantis Systems

In the developed world, the Web has been taken for granted almost a decade. Life without it would be virtually unthinkable for a large percentage of the population. The advantages it brings in access to information and services are enormous. In the developed world, the mobile Web is an emerging adjunct to the web. The range and quality of services available to mobile users has traditionally been poor but is slowly improving. Uptake has been low. In part, this may be due to the availability of traditional ways of accessing the Web. This sets expectations which access from mobile devices often fails to meet. Since users have alternative ways of achieving their goals, they use them in preference.

In contrast, in many developing countries, there is no, readily available, cost effective mechanism by which the majority of the population can access the Web. Mobile technologies look set to be able to change this state of affairs. In the same way that in some countries the mobile phone network is the phone network, so, for many citizens, the mobile Web will be the Web.

In developing countries, mobile web applications need to be highly relevant. Just delivering the existing Web to mobile devices may not be enough. Language, literacy and the capabilities of the types of device available all challenge the ability to create useful applications that can be delivered widely and used easily. Even in the developed world, the range of Web-based applications available to mobile users is small. Development tends to be difficult and the associated costs are high, particularly where device-specific programming is required. Applications need to have wide applicability and importance to justify creation.

In the developing world, the mobile Web brings huge potential for social improvement. With the right applications it can provide, for example, a vehicle for education, a way to enable small business and a way to improve delivery of government services. Some applications that are currently fashionable on the traditional Web may also be valuable if versions appropriate for mobile use become available. Blogs, Wikis, social networking and content sharing may have roles to play.

To provide these applications, a mobile network infrastructure is required of course. A server infrastructure to support Web applications is also needed as is access to handsets by the population. Business models that can support the investment required also need to be available. For example, access to handsets is already supported in some countries by making small loans that allow handsets to be purchased and rented out to users in a local community to allow them to make voice calls. Network operators, content providers and government might provide the server infrastructure for application development and delivery.

Development environments that minimize the cost of application creation while supporting the kinds of device and networks likely to be available in developing countries have a key role to play. The W3C has created specifications, such as the Device Independent Authoring Language (DIAL) [1], that provide a sound platform for the construction of Web sites and applications that can be used on a range of devices.

Volantis Systems [2] has been creating applications for the mobile web since 2000. It's Multi-channel Server (MCS) supports standards like DIAL [1] and CSS [3]. It further simplifies application development by providing simple, powerful abstractions that allow layouts and styling for different devices to be applied without affecting content. It employs device-detection and server-side adaptation to provide optimized markup for each target device without authors needing to be concerned about the differences between them. It supports over 3,500 different handsets worldwide from the simplest WML 1.0 devices to the most sophisticated smart phones and including i-mode devices. It can even support the traditional web and the mobile web from the same materials.


[1] Device Independent Authoring Language (DIAL), K.Smith, W3C Working Draft, 2006 (see http://www.w3.org/TR/dial/)

[2] Volantis Systems (see http://www.volantis.com)

[3] Cascading Style Sheets, level 2 revision 1, B.Bos et. al., W3C Working Draft, 2006 (see http://www.w3.org/TR/CSS21/)