By Boris Groendahl
BONN (Reuters) - Deutsche Telekom's mobile arm T-Mobile will use Web search leader Google as the starting point for surfing the Internet on its mobile phones to promote Internet usage, T-Mobile said on Wednesday.
T-Mobile, Europe's second-largest mobile operator, is moving to provide full Internet access on its phones, abandoning the unpopular "walled garden" concept in which operators give access to their own choice of Web sites.
"With the Google homepage we want tell our customers from the first moment that they are carrying with them the Internet they know from home," said T-Mobile board member Ulli Gritzuhn at a news conference in T-Mobile's Bonn headquarters.
Mobile operators have failed for years to convince subscribers to use their phones for more than calls and text messages. As voice call prices fall, they need to compensate with revenues from Internet usage and other services.
But the vast majority of customers shun mobile Internet services such as T-Mobile's "t-zones" or market leader Vodafone's "Live!." Those who use them do so rarely, and customer surveys show they do not see much use in them.
"Too expensive, too complicated, too little use -- that's our clients' judgment about our current data services," said T-Mobile's Gritzuhn.
T-Mobile expects that mimicking more closely the Internet as people know it from their home or office computers will encourage them to use it for reading news or following eBay auctions while on the move, thus increasing revenues.
As part of its Internet campaign, dubbed "web'n'walk," T-Mobile will also launch mobile devices with larger displays, better suited to the Web, and will offer cheaper tariffs to encourage Internet usage, Gritzuhn said.
Web'n'walk will launch in July in Germany and Austria and later this year in Britain, the Netherlands and the Czech Republic. T-Mobile has not decided yet whether to use Google as a home page in the United States as well.
The devices sold in the campaign are the Sidekick II, a miniature computer that has become a fashion item in the United States after celebrities including Paris Hilton started using it, Nokia's 6680 model and two handheld computers.
Google replaces the old "t-zones" homepage only on those devices. Older phones will still use the t-zones because they are not able to display complex Web pages.
T-Mobile will use a Web browser by Norwegian software maker Opera on the Nokia model to make sure Web sites are displayed properly on the small phone display.
T-Mobile expects a high six-digit number of subscribers to use web'n'walk by the end of 2006 and expects those subscribers who use it to generate additional revenue of 10 euros per month, Gritzuhn said.