E-commerce is going mobile

Don't be a casualty in the wireless revolution

Don't be a casualty in the wireless revolution

Wap is here - well, nearly. BT launched its wireless application protocol mobile phone service this week, bringing Wap technology to the masses.

In theory this turns all existing mobile phones into legacyware. But the services that will make the new gadgetry worth having are thin on the ground.

The impact of Wap is potentially enormous - not just for e-commerce but for the architecture of enterprise computing and for the user-supplier relationship.

The technology exists now to deal stocks, book theatre tickets, place bets and manage your finances from the touch-screen of a Wap phone with a built-in PDA. Unlike desktop Internet use, this new form of buying goods and accessing information will not have to rely on employees' furtive use of workplace bandwidth. No one will have to say "get out more" to mobile e-commerce junkies.

But the new technology creates new problems. Number one is security. There is always some aspect of security that relies on the client hardware and the end-user: mobile phone security is untried outside the labs of the telecoms giants. Added to that, law to recognise digital signatures in the UK has still not been passed, let alone tested in the courts. There is still no standard public key infrastructure for encryption over the Net - and wireless PKI presents an added technical challenge.

These obstacles can and must be conquered, because the potential benefits are considerable.

Both as consumers and employees, the salariat has embraced the idea of the desktop PC. The Internet did more than anything else to achieve that, and it could repeat the success for a radically slimmed down mobile client that is part phone, part PDA, part Web browser.

If that happens, the client-server systems we rely on today could look more than dated. When the PC and the local network appeared in businesses, the old datacentre managers were wrong-footed. We are only just recovering from the chaos reaped by decentralised IT strategy that infiltrated on the back of the desktop PC.

The same thing could happen with mobile e-business. Large companies should be looking now at their whole mobile telecoms and computing strategy. There are four network providers, about the same number of serious hardware manufacturers, and just three operating systems. They are currently engaged in forming the alliances that will shape the user-supplier relationship when mobile e-commerce overtakes the wireline version.

Users need to get their act together, faced with such a potentially limited choice of suppliers and technologies. You need a mobile strategy, not a mobile policy. And you need an urgent dialogue with the non-IT managers in your organisation about the implications of the emerging mobile market.

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