Mobile phone hyperlinks for the real world

London, June 21:

Imagine waiting at the bus shelter idly reading the poster for a new blockbuster movie. You whip out your cameraph-one and snap a barcode-like image on the poster. Software in your phone decodes this and takes you to a website where you can watch the trailer and find out more about the film. Sounds cool? The world of the 2D barcode is nearly upon us.

After several false dawns,

hyperlinks for the physical world are becoming a reality, thanks to mobiles with

higher resolution cameras and the emergence of 3G high-speed connectivity.

ScanBuy, a New York-based provider of 2D barcode capture technology, has signed a deal with Nokia to embed its software into the mobile manufacturer’s S60 and S40 models — primarily in China, a country with 500 million mobile phone users. And global packaging company DuPont is offering to print the codes on to its customers’ products using ScanBuy’s technology.

These more sophisticated versions of the traditional barcodes or universal product codes (UPCs) used in retailing can be scanned by cameraphones and converted into text, images or video. They can simply contain information - up to 1MB in some cases - or act as web links, making the hitherto tricky process of surfing the net via mobile as easy as ‘point andclick’.

The technology is proving popular in Japan and South Korea, with 2D barcodes printed on billboards and bus shelters. Carriers such as Japan’s NTT DoCoMo have led the way.

Subscribers to its i-mode internet service, for example,

can generate their own 2D codes for printing on adverts, flyers and business cards. In Europe, Spanish mobile phone giant Telefonica, owner of O2, is beta-testing 2D barcodes with its users.

Marketers are particularly interested in a technology that enables consumers to interact with traditionally passive advertising. And it is easy to see how this technology could be extended. House hunters walking past a ‘For Sale’ sign could scan the barcode and find out the particulars of the property.

Newspaper readers could scan sports reports and then watch video clips of the

highlights. Business people could scan each other’s business cards and instantly store contact details.

The technology can also be applied effectively as a digital ticketing system. When you buy a ticket to a concert or film, for example, the promoter sends an image of the unique barcode to your mobile as proof of purchase. When you turn up at the venue you present this image on your phone to a barcode reader - a modified mobile phone - to gain entry. Barcelona-based Codilink is selling 20,000 2D barcode cinema tickets and discount vouchers a week, having licensed ScanBuy’s technology. Codilink managing director Ben Chesser says, “Within one-and-a-half to two years, early adopters will be doing this regularly. It takes time to build awareness, but this technology is finally ready for take-off.”

One drawback preventing widespread adoption has been the lack of standards in a fragmented and highly competitive mobile phone market. Few consumers have been bothered enough to download decoder software on to their phones. The advantage of ScanBuy’s proprietary software is that it can readany of the main barcode protocols.