Wireless: Other Platforms, Other Rules

How should CFOs in the United States view the wireless Web revolution taking place in Europe? As coming attractions.

That’s a startling number — one that has not gone unnoticed by many corporate executives in Europe. This sudden urge to get onto the Net without a wire presents an inviting opportunity for companies doing business in Europe. In fact, when Forrester Research surveyed 50 European ecommerce executives about their plans for creating a presence on the mobile Internet, 90 percent said they intended to deploy wireless Web sites. Moreover, half the respondents said those sites would go live in 2000.

This is not just a case of keeping up with the Jones’s Web site, either. Executives in the survey said they believed their wireless- wired sites would do more than enhance customer retention. They said they believed the sites would drive incremental revenue and attract new customers. DHL’s Joyce, who has already deployed a wireless site, sees it the same way. “What we’re looking at isn’t so much the technology,” he says, “but the ability to provide business service and to service a growing market share.”

WAPalizer

That puts him ahead of his counterparts working the other side of the pond. Generally, US corporations are thought to be about 18 months ahead of European companies in deploying ecommerce applications. But when it comes to wireless access to the Internet, European companies are well ahead of businesses in the US The reason is obvious. Currently, only about a third of Americans own mobile phones — and nearly 70 percent of those are analog machines. Digital phones work infinitely better in the digital world of data transmission.

But all-digital mobile networks are coming to the US Sprint (www.sprint.com), Nextel (www.nextel.com), and AT&T (www.att.com) offer digital mobile service. In fact, Sprint PCS has already come out with several wireless Web products. Industry research firm Dataquest says 3 million users in the US subscribe to wireless data services. Dataquest predicts that figure will be more like 36 million in three years. Much of that increase in business will come from business: The number of business wireless data users in the US will grow to nearly 9 million by 2003, according to digital research specialist Cahners In-Stat Group.

As the take-up in digital wireless increases, expect to see more American companies embrace wireless Internet access. The next generation of Palm Pilots (www.palm.com), for example, will offer wireless Net access. Officials at America Online (www.aol.com) have announced they are preparing a version of the AOL Instant Messenger (AIM) application for use on Motorola’s (www.motorola.com) WAP-enabled devices. Etailer Amazon.com (www.amazon.com) also recently launched a Web portal specially designed for wireless devices. The portal, among other things, will enable wireless users to monitor the status of purchases and check shipping availability.

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