Mobile Web: the democratisation of an essential tool

For many of us, using the Web is a natural and even indispensable part of our daily lives. But only 20% of the world’s population have access to it. Tim Berners-Lee, the Web's inventor, created the Web Foundation in 2007 with the aim of accelerating access to the Web for the rest of the world's population. Showcased at the Sharing Knowledge conference, the Mobile Web is one of the Web Foundation’s projects in which members of CERN are involved.


Virtually no access to the Web but a very extensive GSM network: that's the situation that many developing countries especially in Africa find themselves in. “Owing to its size, its unstable soils and its limited infrastructure, it is technically very difficult to bring optic fibres for Internet connections to all regions of Africa. The idea of the Mobile Web project is therefore to be able to use the GSM network to access the Web,” explains Silvano de Gennaro, a member of the video team within CERN's Communication Group and a very active member of the Software without Borders Association, which is directly involved in the Mobile Web project launched in 2010 by Tim Berners-Lee’s Web Foundation.

To mitigate the lack of Web access and to meet day-to-day needs, computer experts in Africa have developed applications for mobile phones based on the SMS. As most Africans don't have a credit card, an application has been created to allow them to pay all sorts of bills such as school fees or for food with their mobile phones. Similarly, an application has been developed allowing users to speak into their phones and to have their text translated into the thousands of dialects spoken across Africa. For the inhabitants of the African continent, the mobile phone is not only a gadget but a real tool that is becoming increasingly indispensable.

In order to use the infrastructures put in place for the GSM network to increase access to the Web, the Mobile Web project team is working on web page coding standards that can be read from any mobile phone. “The ideal would be to define Web standards and to develop programs to create web pages specially designed for mobile phones,” explains Silvano de Gennaro. Of course, information on the project needs to be diffused as widely as possible so that the developers of important Web sites make their web pages readable by mobile phone. Once the technical issues have been resolved and access to the Web via mobile phone becomes feasible, the next challenge will be to encourage telecommunications operators to contain their connection costs. We live in high hopes and will continue to monitor the situation.

For more information on the subject, you can visit the Web Foundation site, the Software without Borders Association website and our article on the Sharing Knowledge Conference.


by Laëtitia Pedroso