Far more than just Web lite

Feature

Far more than just Web lite

Companies that found success on the Internet must not make the mistake of simply applying fixed-line business models to mobile commerce. Andrew Robinson reports

It would be natural for organisations that have been successful in the fixed-line Internet world to approach developing wireless technology by simply boiling down their successful fixed-line models and shoehorning their applications into wireless technology. However, this is not the way forward.

In the same way that television developed new content and business models, wireless will lead to new models of its own, and these will differ in important and fundamental ways from those in the fixed-line arena.

Never mind that current mobile devices are woefully inferior to fixed-line Internet connections, and, in some key technical aspects, wireless applications will never equal the fixed-line Web experience. It is crucial to recognise that wireless is superior to fixed-line Internet connectivity in at least three important ways. Wireless Internet devices provide a ubiquitous presence, they provide for information and services based on device location, and they allow for unique interaction between the physical and virtual world.

Presence

Wireless communication devices are omnipresent as constant companions that are almost always on.

Given its infancy, we have not yet seen many commercial services that take advantage of the ubiquity of wireless communications. Some early examples are seen in financial services institutions and brokerages that deliver real-time information about market conditions and offer facilities for customers to transact instantaneously in response to market changes.

Within the banking industry, wireless services will become absolutely critical for winning the lucrative market for wireless payment and banking services. The constant presence of the wireless handset will enable consumers to instantly pay anytime, anywhere, without cash or a credit card. Fast food, taxis, buses, vending machines - all these will soon have the technology to receive wireless payments, opening immense growth opportunities for companies that seize the lead in wireless payments.

For companies to take advantage of wireless data communications, a few key questions should be asked:

  • Is the product or service something that can or should be near the consumer at all times?

  • Does the consumer gain an advantage if this service is always available?

  • Does a customer's use of, or demand for, a service or product change during the day?

  • Can wireless transform the customer's perception and usage pattern?

  • Can the "anytime" aspect be harnessed to design new services?

  • Is there a time/value trade-off that may be used to quantify the opportunity?

    Location

    Wireless devices will have the capability to receive information that is tailored to customers' needs at a particular location. It is expected that these services will be huge - research company Strategis predicts that location services alone will generate $33bn (£21bn) in revenues by 2005.

    Already we are seeing early signs of location-based services, such as identifying the nearest ATM. But location-based services are likely to become significantly more robust. A retailer might offer an instant coupon to a shopper who spends an afternoon on the high street near their store, for example.

    Companies can begin to determine the power of location-based services for their business by asking two critical questions:

  • Does consumer demand for the product vary by location?

  • Does the consumer gain an advantage by utilising wireless to customise or enhance the service based on their physical location?

    Interaction

    Possibly the most powerful aspect of wireless Internet is the interaction that is enabled between the physical and virtual worlds.

    In the US, the Simon Property Group has created two pilot services, Fastfrog and YourSherpa, which bring the physical and virtual worlds together for customers in its shopping malls. The services, enabled by handheld devices distributed in the mall, provide the shopper with the ability to scan the barcode of an item and gain information on it. And it will not be long before additional value-added services become available, such as comparison shopping and product availability.

    Wireless technology will enable consumers with similar tastes or hobbies to instantly communicate, allowing those in a certain location at a specified time to be instantly unified by their common interest. For example, for an avid roller-hockey player, it would be great to get real-time notification of games taking place in the London area. In fact, a company called eWap has already launched this type of service based on consumer interests.

    When creating wireless interaction-based services companies should consider:

  • Does consumer demand for the service change according to the surrounding social structure?

  • Can the relationship with the consumer be strengthened by enabling the consumer to interact with others using wireless communications?

  • Andrew Robinson is managing partner of Diamond Technology Partners' European practice and can be contacted via email.

    The wireless future

    Given the state of the technology available today, some may wonder whether wireless Internet will really have commercial viability in the near future. In fact, while 3G wireless communications and precision location infrastructure such as GPS may not be available for 18 months, there are a number of advances occurring today that will dramatically hasten the availability of these services.

    Most operators are upgrading their existing GSM networks to GPRS, which, among other things, generates an eightfold increase in the speed of data communications. Similarly, operators are upgrading their systems to "cell precision" which means that a customer's general location will be known to within 1km. Given these advances, companies need to begin considering the strategic implications of the wireless world. So, just for starters, consider what happens when:

  • All your customers have wireless access to the Web

  • One billion people have the capability to instantly communicate

  • You can automatically send information to your customers based on their location and the time

  • Funds can be transferred instantly to or from a wireless device

  • The amount of data that can be pushed over the wireless network is greater than that available on today's fixed-line office networks


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    This was first published in October 2000

     

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