Tim Berners-Lee, the man credited for inventing the World Wide Web, has called for the mobile Internet to be as open as the wired Web.

In a speech at the Mobile Internet World conference, Berners-Lee, director of the World Wide Web Consortium, urged mobile network operators and other vendors to adhere to as-yet unspecified mobile Web standards instead of taking proprietary approaches. He also said that hardware, software and content should be as universally available to users on the mobile Web as it is on the wired one.

"The most important thing about the Web's arrival is that it runs on any hardware, any software, any language, and can be used by people with disabilities," Berners-Lee told his audience. "It has had to be universal. That's what is important to remember as we go into the mobile Web. It's important to keep it universal."

Openness will provide a larger market for all vendors, Berners-Lee contended. Likening the mobile Internet to a cake, he said, "Having the cake get bigger is where the game is."

Berners-Lee was characteristically diplomatic in his speech, avoiding any mention of specific vendors that he thinks are following proprietary paths. However, he criticised the "walled garden" approach used by nearly all of the mobile carriers in the US to restrict user access to authorised content providers only. In addition, he condemned Apple, without actually naming the company, for forcing its customers to use devices that require them to go to one music website to buy songs.

He also supported the concept of unlocking phones so that users in the US no longer would have to go to cellular carriers and buy phones tied their networks under multi-year contracts.

Berners-Lee said that he thinks mobile Internet use will eventually be large. But he cautioned that if vendors go proprietary and avoid standards, the expected growth in adoption could be slowed by five to 10 years.

Open wireless networks and devices have been a concern of the Federal Communications Commission, which has required that a portion of the 700-MHz spectrum being auctioned off to vendors in January be left open.

Yankee Group Research, one of the sponsors of Mobile Internet World, said in a recent report that the wireless industry has thus far failed to meet the pent-up consumer demand for mobile Internet services. The annual worldwide market for such services could be $66 billion but has only reached about $9.5 billion, Yankee Group said, citing a new research model that it has developed.