Orange, the U.K.'s third largest mobile phone operator, has announced its OrangeWorld strategy to link its network with the Internet, unveiling investments in speech recognition, news gathering and information-rendering companies.

Hans Snook, chief executive officer of Orange, said at a press conference here that he sees the future as a place where "your Orange phone is no longer just a phone; it's a personal communications centre."

The company announced the acquisition of US-based Wildfire Communications, a company specialising in voice recognition technology, for £95 million.

It has also taken a 25 percent stake in California-based NewsTakes, which reformats data content for different digital devices, for £4.2 million.

NewsTakes reformats information designed for viewing on PCs to phones equipped with the WAP (Wireless Applications Protocol) interface, or from any digital device to any other digital device.

"WAP phones may be primitive compared to what people expect from the Internet, but they're a giant leap from what there was two or three years ago," Snook added.

Primitive as mobile phones might be, Orange has about 70,000 customers with WAP phones in the U.K. and claims that the 70,000 actually use an average of two minutes of WAP services per day.

Orange plans to integrate the specialties of Wildfire and NewsTakes with each other and with Ananova, the U.K.-based virtual newscaster and information gathering technology company that Orange purchased last week.

Although here in the U.K. 52 percent of people already own mobile phones, there are still roadblocks keeping the country, and the rest of Europe, from reaching its full wireless potential, Snook said.

"The networks have to be as reliable as fixed line phones, and they also have to have the capacity to handle bandwidth growth" before the wireless Internet can be fully realized, Snook said.

"Within four years, mobile will be the most common way to access the Internet, television will be second, and the PC will probably be the third," Snook added.

In addition, Orange announced numerous future services and partnerships under the OrangeWorld plan, including travel information, sales and services, health services, home sales and services, car sales and maintenance, banking, entertainment and shopping.