M-commerce is on the starting blocks

Issues of security and personal identification still need to be ironed out if transactions made over mobile phones, known as...

Issues of security and personal identification still need to be ironed out if transactions made over mobile phones, known as m-commerce, are to take off, writes Karl Cushing.

Michael Ohajuru, sales and marketing director for Materna Communications in the UK, says the four digits of the Pin number are an obvious choice for users to identify themselves over a wireless network.

Biometric methods, like the use of thumbprints, will gain ground, he says, but he doesn't believe that they are technologically viable yet.

Using a Pin in conjunction with the phone number is a perfectly secure option, thinks Ohajura. "The Pin is as secure as people want to keep it," he says.

Convenience and cost are important issues. "You could make it more secure but also more inconvenient. You don't want to give people a four-foot thick manual. People are either not prepared to read it or don't have the time.

"We want to migrate people from something they know in the fixed world to something they know in the mobile world," he adds.

"Simplicity is at the heart of it. The fewer features there are the more people will use it."

Developing more complex security and identification systems is one thing but getting them up and running is another issue altogether. "This business is driven by the handset manufacturers," he says.

The next generation of network, general packet radio services, is a case in point, Ohajuru says. The networks are in place, but the handsets have not yet materialised.

And then there's Electronic Message Services, or "SMS brought up to date", as Ohajuru calls it. This will enable barcodes to be sent by phone, enabling customers to use their phones to pay bills and use other banking services.

"From a user perspective, the principle is well understood," says Ohajuru. "You verify yourself and get access to information. It's now a question of take-up, and acceptance by banks."

So, with all of these possibilities and potential uses for SMS, who needs 3G? There's no compelling application for 3G," says Ohajuru. People are waiting for 3G to be introduced before they develop their services, whereas "with SMS you can do it now".

Ohajuru admits that SMS services are static and not very glamorous compared to the much-vaunted capabilities of 3G. However, he points out that SMS is easy to use, available now and, more importantly, has a mass market. "We're talking to a lot of people who developed Wap services but are now backtracking to add SMS," says Ohajuru.

"It's almost a no-brainer in terms of choosing which one to go for. SMS was a new medium but now it's a mature means of communication."

Ohajuru accepts that its future will be in question once 3G services come in but says he never expected it to be around forever. Most means of communication have their period of growth followed by a period of decline, he says.

"Right now it's still in ascendancy," he says, "and will be until 2004 and beyond." So get texting

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