NEWBURY, UK: European mobile phone giant Vodafone is teaming up with China Mobile and Japan's Softbank to found a "joint innovation lab" aimed at accelerating the expansion of the mobile internet. 

The research centre will be established this summer, with the express intention of improving the mobile online interface, particularly via "widgets" – visual icons that bring mobile services more in line with computer-based web browsers.

One of the main problems in developing such a system to date has been the wide variety of mobile operating platforms. They currently number at least 20 and Vodafone has previously called for a more uniform approach to be adopted.

The new research centre will look to develop software capable of working across each of these systems. Some analysts see its inception as an effort by these companies to stop search specialists like Google and Yahoo gaining control of the wireless internet market.

A joint statement issued by China Mobile, Softbank and Vodafone said: "The three companies expect the initiative will help to accelerate the commercial deployment of mobile internet services." 

The launch of Apple's iPhone is seen as one example of how mobile online will develop in the future, and Vodafone itself made an estimated £1 billion from its online data services for the six months to the end of September last year, a total up 45% on the figures from the previous year.

  • Meanwhile, the Mobile Marketing Association (MMA) has also announced its first set of global guidelines in an effort to boost the number of brands advertising over the mobile internet.

    The MMA represents 600 companies – including AOL, Microsoft and Google-owned Doubleclick – and its guidelines establish improved formats for the mobile internet, as well as making recommendations about the sending of text/picture messages and managing downloads.

  • Data sourced from the Financial Times (UK); additional content by WARC staff