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The new .tel domain allows companies and individuals to create a virtual address book, storing a variety of contact information online and offering it to users according to where they are and how they connect to the service.

“The launch of .tel represents the most significant innovation in the domain name system since the advent of .com,” said Khashr Mahdavi, chief executive of Telnic, the UK-based company that is overseeing the rollout.

Today marks the beginning of a two-month “sunrise” period, where the owners of trademarks can apply for .tel domains for their brands, products and businesses. After that period has ended on February 3, domains will go on general sale on a first-come, first-served basis.

Although a number of other top-level domains have come online in recent years, including .eu and .mobi, those behind the new service say that it is different because it offers a radical departure from traditional web addresses.

Unlike normal URLs, which point to websites stored on local servers around the world, .tel addresses return only information stored on the internet’s core Domain Name Servers (DNS).

According to Telnic, this can include phone numbers, email contacts, GPS coordinates and more.

The result is that users can receive different information depending on how they connect to the service, instead of simply seeing a website when they enter a .tel address on their phone or computer.

The hope is that owners will keep a detailed central record and use the system to automatically push users towards the right mode of contact. For example connecting potential customers to a local branch of a shop when a they dial the .tel address on a mobile phone, initiating a Voip call when users connect via Skype, or directing email to the right person without requiring the correct address.

“Instead of having to go out onto the web to get further information, you go to the DNS and every single way I can interact with you or a business is delivered straight back,” said Justin Hayward, Telnic’s marketing director.

Icann, the body that oversees the assignment of names on the internet, has already outlined plans to liberalise the allocation of domains. The rules will begin being relaxed early next year, potentially allowing any word to be registered as a domain suffix – such as .city or .news – by anybody.

Hayward insisted .tel should not be seen as yet another attempt to extract cash from brand owners and companies desperate to keep control of their online presence.

Telnic hopes that having a single .tel address that points towards a variety of phone numbers, email addresses and web services could eventually become the norm, though Hayward admitted that it could take a while to catch on.

“The challenge is to provide people with an understanding that this is different – it’s not a web service, it’s an internet service,” said Hayward. “It’s a different slant that offers more personalisation.”


Bobbie Johnson, technology correspondent, Wednesday 3 December 2008 17.36 GMT Article history