Wireless: Other Platforms, Other Rules

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

Dominating space won’t necessarily break the bank, however. According to the Forrester survey of 50 European ecommerce executives, it costs about $87,000 to develop and maintain a wireless-accessible home page — or about 6 percent of the budget for the average European ecommerce site.

Good news, particularly since the wireless Web isn’t the only game in town. At EuropeanInvestor.com, Anciaux says he doesn’t want to lock customers into one platform. In fact, he says, the recent growth at the financial information specialist can be partly attributed to the company’s embracing several access technologies. “The Net is nice, but what is important is content,” he insists. “We don’t want to force someone to use one technology.”

In the near term, Anciaux believes SMS (short message systems) holds the most promise for EuropeanInvestor.com. With SMS, mobile phone subscribers tell banks or financial institutions what market information they’re interested in. Those institutions then send onscreen alerts, via EuropeanInvestor.com, updating users about their areas of interest. “We have a huge demand from banks and telephone operators for financial services,” Anciaux says.

Short message systems have a place in the E-tail world, as well. Sep Riahi, vice president of business development at lastminute.com (www.lastminute.com), a Europe-based specialty shopping portal, says the company often uses SMS to notify shoppers when airline tickets become available. “The key is a personalization mechanism that stays in our database, saying that a visitor to our site has so much money to spend — say £100 for a flight — and we can then send that person a message when we have something suitable,” he explains.

Current offerings from lastminute.com include a flight on a MiG airplane in Russia, as well as the opportunity to spend a night in Marilyn Monroe’s old house. Riahi says, however, that their most popular offerings are last-minute travel, entertainment, gift, and restaurant services. Customers can connect to the company’s Web site via several alternative platforms, including WAP phones, PDAs, and interactive television.

But Riahi warns that different industry standards, particularly for iDTV, can create headaches for online businesses. “Cable companies are using a standard that is easier for Internet companies to adapt to Java and HTML,” he explains. Jupiter Communications predicts that iDTV will be most popular in the UK, Denmark, and Germany.

Meanwhile, Back at the Matrix

But some European corporates say figuring out when to embrace an emerging alternative platform can be tricky. Move too late, and you play catch-up forever. Move too early, and you might end up backing a dog of a technology.

Evan Rudowski, the managing director of Excite UK (www.excite.co.uk), a joint venture between British Telecommunications and Excite@Home, says his company’s Internet policy is crystal-clear: Stay on top of new technologies, act quickly, and build the brand. “At Excite, battling for share, awareness, and ubiquity, our motivation is a combination of near-term business opportunities and long-term positioning and brand building.”

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