Mobile groups study barcode plan

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Leading mobile communications companies are due to meet in London on Tuesday to consider a plan that would help turn handsets into personal barcode readers – a move that could stimulate the first big mobile-driven advertising market.

By pointing their camera phones at special 2D barcodes printed on advertisements or product packaging, users would be able to find out more information or instantly download coupons or other marketing offers, supporters of the plan say.

Though already common in Japan and South Korea, the use of mobile phones to read 2D barcodes remains rare elsewhere.

Progress has been held back by the lack of common technology that would let any phone read any barcode, and then complete the routing needed to link back to the relevant information on the web, according to backers of the London initiative.

Tuesday’s meeting, prompted by an alliance between the technology and marketing giants Hewlett-Packard and Publicis, has been called to try to promote standards in this area. Companies due to attend include Nokia, Ericsson, Vodafone and Deutsche Telekom, said Tim Kindberg, an HP researcher.

However, other companies involved in the field say signs of strong consumer adoption of the technology in recent months in Japan and South Korea has stimulated a rash of experiments elsewhere in the world that is likely to make the technology widespread, regardless of the standards push.

In one of the widest-ranging initiatives to date, DuPont last week said it would make 2D codes available on the cans, bottles and many other types of packaging that it supplies to consumer product companies around the world.

Thanks to early work by carriers such as DoCoMo in Japan and China Mobile, “there are already some pretty basic standards that everyone can live by”, said Jonathan Bulkeley of Scanbuy, whose technology is being used by DuPont.

However, Mr Kindberg said the more competitive mobile communications markets that exist in other countries make it harder for agreement on technology to emerge in these places. “It’s been on the verge of happening for some time now – the technology is there, but the problem is the fragmentation in the market.”

The HP/Publicis group, known as the Mobile Codes Consortium, hoped to reach basic agreements on technology within a year, he added.

The widespread use of 2D barcodes to make many objects “internet-enabled” would have applications far beyond advertising, said Charles Fritz, chairman of NeoMedia, whose technology is being used by HP and Publicis.

By making it easy to find information on any object, it would create an “internet of things” that would create extensive links between the physical and electronic worlds, he added.

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