People in Hong Kong and the mainland will soon be able to browse the Internet by speaking to it, according to network components supplier NMS Communications. The technology behind the NMS voice portal enables callers to speak and retrieve information via a mobile phone with speech recognition capability. NMS said China Mobile had been conducting trial systems. The service is expected to be launched in the second half of this year. 'The reason why China Mobile is willing to put more funds into this application is that it can hold the air-time longer - it is the way to bring revenue,' said Allen Ho, NMS's country manager for Greater China. Mr Ho said many of the applications would be useful tools for building customer loyalty, reducing the churn rate whereby customers move from one mobile-phone company to another. One of the applications is a virtual personal digital assistant. A subscriber can input data such as a phone book which he stores with his service provider. Once the user is accustomed to using it, he will be less inclined to switch to another carrier. 'We expect to see this market grow in the middle of this year, once [the carriers] are happy with the quality and see proof that it can attract revenue,' Mr Ho said. 'It is a killer app.' Michael Welles, NMS's vice-president and general manager, said: 'Once you decode the voice, getting information is fairly easy because the database is in place with the Internet.' He expected that localised services would be added and users would be able to send voice messages and conduct teleconferences over the voice portals. In Beijing, Tom.com has been using IBM's technology to operate a voice portal allowing voice-driven access to the latest information on stocks, transport services, world news, movies and weather forecasts. The technology also enables Yahoo! users in the United States to listen to their e-mails on standard telephones. China Mobile and China Telecom have expressed interest in offering the services, said Mr Ho. '[The] initial impression from them is good and they are asking for more features to be included. We are confident that this is going to happen in 2002,' he said. Mr Ho said NMS also had been working with some Hong Kong system integrators and operators to provide similar services, expected to be launched in the first half of this year.