[Inter@ctive Week] WAP! Or thud

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From: Linda (joelinda1@home.com)
Date: Wed Jun 07 2000 - 18:48:41 PDT


WAP! Or thud
By Louis Trager, Inter@ctive Week
June 1, 2000 9:09 AM ET

A crucial buzzword du jour is m-commerce. Behind the buzz lurks a
cautionary tale about technology bandwagons. The "m" stands for mobile,
as in, everybody running around doing business with portable electronic
devices - all the time. Or at least all the time they're not sitting in
front of desktops, not doing e-nough of the Last Big Thing to save many
e-commerce entrants.

Barry Parr frets about m-commerce. Just to be clear - Parr, consumer
e-commerce research director at International Data Corp., does believe
the notion has big potential. Travelers and locals alike may someday yearn
to weave the Web throughout their entire on-the-go lives, seeking information
on local eateries, entertainment - not to mention instant updates on traffic,
weather, stocks, soap operas, gambling events and horoscopes. It's not a great
leap to using mobile data to window-shop and complete transactions through the

But, Parr is flashing a few m-commerce warnings. Not yet, at least not
here - and not with phones. Be careful, he says, with the claims:

- Counts and projections of wireless Internet users can be misleading.
Most are using cell phones to connect laptops to the Net, a process far different
from data access using the phone directly.

- Projections of Web-enabled phones may mean less than meets the eye. IDC envisions
93 million U.S. subscribers with Wireless Application Protocol capability
by 2003. But not all WAP phones will have active WAP owners.

- "Everybody in Europe does it." No, they don't, actually. Lots of Europeans -
Finns, especially - are knee-deep into chat, e-mail and information access
via short messaging services. But that's not the same as downloading Web pages
using WAP.

- "They love it in Japan." That's because computer access to the Net has
been limited. Let's see what happens now that computer access is becoming more
affordable and Japan's wireless industry is running up against constraints like
proprietary and dated technologies, high rates and extreme customer churn.

So much for the affirmative case for phone-based m-commerce soon, according to Parr.
Wait, he's not done.

There's nothing wrong with mobile phones for conducting commerce that
big, bulky displays and keypads might not cure. And there's nothing wrong with WAP
as a supporting technology that download speeds much faster than the current
19.2 kilobits per second wouldn't solve. And remember: Not only your Web
page design but your entire site's organization has to be adapted for the new

What do consumers want? IDC asked mobile-phone users how interested they
were in Net access using their phones. Just 7 percent said they were uninterested.
Unfortunately, 75 percent said they were very uninterested. It's a classic
case of top-down push marketing, Parr says, a coincidence of vendor need
- wireless providers trying to scramble up the value chain in order to increase
per-subscriber revenue, cover high costs and slow churn - with technology prowess -
because they can. Service providers want Internet-style growth without the open
platforms and commodity pricing that fueled it.

It's all so reminiscent of bygone fads like interactive TV and handwriting-based
computing, Parr says. "Communications infrastructure and connectivity - that is
such a huge opportunity and an honorable business. They [telcos] need to stop
trying to get into show business."

Companies in some businesses - handling personal information management,
communications, time-critical stock alerts and news bulletins, Yellow Pages or
directions - should move fast on WAP, Parr says. Others are well-advised to hold
off and see how protocols shake out for the personal digital assistant-like devices
he expects to emerge as the killer hardware.

Mobile communication is indeed a wireless marvel, and the commerce it supports may well
become one also. Meanwhile, though, the m-commerce boom demonstrates that whatever
the Next Big Thing happens to be, it's rarely truly wireless - there's almost always
some seller pulling the strings.

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