Mobile commerce development is everyone's hot topic at present. Every day brings a deluge of new products and alliances around this field. Suppliers and service providers are raring to go with Wap. Mobile data network plans emerge from every side. But what should e-commerce leaders make of all this? I'm beginning to think they should be taking a deep breath or two.
Mobile data is not a one-shot deal. Even in Europe, where GSM offers a common platform, the migration path is complex. Some providers like Sonera and Orange have already deployed High Speed Circuit-Switched Data (HSCSD) - the first generation of mobile data technology. But for packet-switched data networks that emulate the Internet, and for always-on access, we must wait for General Packet Radio Service (GPRS). This will begin to be widely available in Europe in 2001.
That's just the start of the story. Beyond GPRS are still further digital standards, leading to genuine broadband networks - perhaps by 2005. Then there's the Bluetooth wireless networking standard for local device connectivity - allowing, for example, a mobile phone to network actively with nearby devices like PCs, shop kiosks, airport information points and more. And I haven't even begun to look at complexities around the interoperability of handsets, or roaming agreements between network operators. This complex picture raises a question mark over current market projections.
I believe that mobile commerce is going to be slower in arriving than many in the industry currently suppose. Leading sectors such as financial services and the media will find true commerce applications the soonest. Many others will use mobile networks more to support e-commerce - maintaining the connection with the customer by messaging and simple Web applications, rather than conducting transactions. This will add plenty of customer-enticing functionality until more powerful hybrid phone/ personal digital assistant devices and better security make transactions more feasible for all.
I'm arguing for a strong dose of realism. While mobile e-commerce will be huge in time, no company should accept offers of the moon before testing the kind of cheese it's made of.
Andrew Parker is an analyst with Forrester Group