Over 320,000 visitors, 17,000 more than last year, attended CeBIT this year.

Many came to see the latest innovations designed to bring the mobile Internet to life.

CeBIT, the consumer electronics show, is officially described as a meeting point for the global communications and information technology industries, but first-time visitors to the show may have thought the event was about mobility, Internet and telecommunications. Many vendors are trying to combine all three into one product or service.

Doing business E-commerce, one of last year's big themes at CeBIT, also went mobile this year, with many vendors looking for ways to overcome the remaining hurdles to making shopping via a wireless device as easy and secure as making a phone call.

True "anywhere, anytime" mobile Internet access is still in its infancy. While many of the show-goers were likely to own at least one mobile communications device, few of those devices are able to hook up to the Internet without wires.

Surprisingly, it was the president of Ericsson who tried to lessen the hype, and cool expectations, surrounding WAP (wireless application protocol) and WML (wireless markup language).

The revolution will be Web-cast "The real revolution will come with the higher data speeds brought by GPRS," said Kurt Hellström, Ericsson's president. GPRS (general packet radio service) is an emerging wireless technology. GSM (global system for mobile communications) network operators throughout Europe are readying GPRS for rollout in the second half of 2000. It promises data exchange at ten times current speeds.

To demonstrate the possibilities GPRS will bring, Ericsson, Symbian and other vendors at CeBIT also unveiled prototype designs for future communication devices.

Featuring large colour screens, such devices will combine a palm-sized computing device with a mobile phone handset, and offer multimedia functionality designed to take advantage of higher data speeds.

Contradiction "I am not a WAP user based on today's data speeds," said Ericsson's Hellström, referring to the 9.6Kbps data-speed standard in most GSM networks today.

Nevertheless, Ericsson and other leading mobile phone vendors, such as Nokia and Motorola, showed a host of new WAP-enabled GSM handsets that will become available sometime in the second or third quarters of this year.

Motorola, for example, unveiled six new WAP-compliant handsets, including one that can also take advantage of the upcoming GPRS networks. Nokia introduced three new WAP models at the show.

Siemens showcased three forthcoming WAP-enabled handsets, including the rugged M35i model, and also announced that mobile communications would be a core business area from now on.

Palm tops Mobile phone vendors are not alone in targeting the emerging market for wireless communications devices. The first wireless-enabled, palm-sized handhelds based on Microsoft's Windows CE operating system should hit the market in the second half of 2000, including one model jointly designed by Japan's Casio and Siemens. Those handhelds are to be followed before year's end by the first GSM-enabled model from 3Com's Palm.

Terry Ernest-Jones, senior research consultant at Context, a London-based market research company, said: "It is interesting to see how vendors are groping around to find a device or form factor that will stick with consumers. The market for Internet appliances is still wide open."

Other new, emerging or upcoming wireless technologies highlighted at the show include Bluetooth, a technology designed for use in wireless personal area networks within a radius of up to ten metres. The first devices featuring Bluetooth technology are expected to reach the market by mid-year.

Makers of many yet-to-be-released devices, such as the forthcoming Linux-based Yopy handheld device from Gmate, were looking to include wireless communications capabilities.

Gmate officials said one of the company's goals is to find partners to help the South Korean start-up integrate CDMA (code division multiple access) or GSM modules into the CompactFlash memory card format. This would enable wireless Internet browsing via the Yopy.