The phrase "surfing the Net" managed to become a cliche in a short amount of time.

France Télécom, however, now looks to let users sniff the Net, ushering a new odour to the multimedia experience.

Through a partnership with Germany's Ruetz Technologies and ISIPCA (the Superior International Institute of Perfume, Cosmetics and Food Aromatics), the research and development arm of France Télécom announced yesterday that it had developed the first experimental device for dispersing smells over the Web.

Using a local diffuser unit, the company can produce a variety of aromas related to multimedia content of the Web sites being viewed.

A current prototype designed for individual use lets a user navigate a Web site and then click with the mouse to release a variety of smells.

France Télécom said a virtual garden or plant nursery site may emit fragrances of familiar fruits or flowers.

Another prototype designed for collective use could make its way into television or possibly the video game market, the company said.

France Télécom said an interactive scented television might present the local weather report with odours of dry hay or cut grass.

On the sporting side of things, a user might watch a Formula One race and encounter the smell of scorched tires as the cars begin the race.

France Télécom even suggested that the adoption of videophones could allow users to catch a whiff of their partner's cologne or perfume.

Within a year, the French carrier said users will be able to access roughly 200 scents via a device that fits both on the computer or around the user's neck for mobility.

In November, the company plans to carry out tests measuring the effects of the service and ways to experiment with the new devices.