Europe stands on the brink of a revolution in Internet access. By 2004, one-third of all Europeans — more than 219 million consumers — will regularly use their mobile phones to access Internet services according to a new Report from Forrester Research B.V. (Nasdaq: FORR). Although the sites that will host these services are already being built, it remains unclear whether mobile operators will provide free and open access to these sites.

Europeans lead the world in mobile phone use, with more than 117 million people in the EU carrying mobile phones. Many of these phones are already being used for data — Europeans pass more than 2 billion short message service (SMS) messages a month to chat and read sports scores. These two factors, plus the introduction of wireless application protocol (WAP) phones, will vault Europe into the lead for mobile Internet access.

Europe’s Internet leaders agree that deploying sites for mobile phones will create new revenue and customer acquisition opportunities. Ninety percent of the eCommerce executives interviewed by Forrester plan to launch Internet sites designed for mobile phones with tiny displays and thin connections. These sites will deliver general content like news headlines, personalized content like stock portfolio updates, and customer service features like order delivery status. And more than half of the interviewees expect their sites to offer transactions like stock trading, travel booking, and auction bidding.

“European firms are moving aggressively to launch a wide range of mobile Internet sites and services by the middle of next year,” said Matthew M. Nordan, European Corporate Technologies analyst at Forrester Research B.V. “With an established base of early adopters to build on, these service providers are wasting no time in trying to establish a competitive advantage. The only thing that can slow the success of mobile Internet services is restricted user access.”

As firms move to deploy WAP projects, some mobile operators plan to restrict users’ ability to reach these mobile Internet sites. Forrester estimates that up to one-third of Europe’s mobile operators, serving more than 50% of all subscribers, will make a closed offering — delivering mobile Internet services in conjunction with a few content partners, charging pay-per-use fees, and blocking access to outside content. Other operators will let subscribers visit any site they choose with no pay-per-use fees. By 2002, Forrester believes that market pressures will force Europe’s mobile operators to provide open access to all users.

For the Report “Europe’s Mobile Internet Opens Up,” Forrester interviewed 25 mobile operators that account for more than 75% of all European mobile subscribers, as well as 50 eCommerce executives from Europe’s highest-volume sites. Nearly half the executives interviewed expected their mobile Internet sites to be live by the middle of 2000. Because existing Web content can be easily repurposed for WAP, these executives only expect to spend $87,000 annually for WAP development and maintenance — about 6% of the budget for an average European commerce site.