Wireless: Other Platforms, Other Rules

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

No small task. To reach those goals, Rudowski says Excite@Home tries to cast as wide a Net as possible. “We try to pursue opportunities that allow us to achieve as many of those goals as we can,” he explains. “WAP fits that fairly well.” Remarkably, six months ago, managers at Excite UK weren’t even looking at WAP. But the company has moved fast — it was the first to launch WAP services out of all the portals in Europe. “I would like to claim we are visionaries,” says Rudowski. “But we’re more opportunist than anything else.”

But opportunism, like spontaneity, works best when it’s planned. Successful Internet players in Europe aren’t scared of sweeping changes in technology. They plan for it. David Atter, a spokesman for beeb.com (www.beeb.com), the shopping portal for the BBC, says the company launches a prototype when 10 percent of the market is talking about a product.

Following that game plan, beeb.com has put together an impressive Internet content production system that’s able to publish in various formats, including mobile devices. “There isn’t a huge penetration of mobile phones able to access the Internet today,” explains Atter. “But when it takes off, we’re ready.”

Which takes you right back to DHL’s matrix. Having seen his fair share of next-big-things, Joyce decries corporate executives who get caught up in the hoopla surrounding new technologies. To him, it’s the strategy, not the technology, that matters. “Most of this stuff is not a technology issue,” Joyce says flatly. “It is an attitude issue.”

Louella Miles is a business journalist who writes frequently about corporate reputation, ecommerce, and international football sponsorship.

Coming Soon to a Small Screen Near You

As of press time, almost all the major handset manufacturers have announced plans to roll out WAP-enabled devices by 2001. Ericsson (www.ericsson.com) already markets two phones (R320 and R380) and a WAP-enabled personal digital assistant (MC218), while Nokia (www.nokia.com) will begin selling its 9110i Communicator in late 2000. Motorola’s (www.motorola.com) WAP-enabled Timeport 7389 and V2288 phones hit the shelves in March 2000.

All these WAP-ready handheld devices should make surfing the wireless Net one swell experience. Users navigate WAP applications with up and down scroll keys, rather than with a mouse or complicated keyboard commands (data can be input using an alphanumeric keypad). What’s more, WAP applications are designed to be viewed on the tiny screen found on the average mobile phone. The microbrowser also allows for expanding the viewable area of an application if the program is being accessed from a machine with a larger screen, such as a PDA.

More important, WAP microbrowsers are configured to use less memory and CPU power, thus extending the battery life of a mobile device. They also allow for easier resumption of an Internet session if a mobile device loses its signal. And according to the WAP Forum, a standards-setting body, the WAP’s stacking protocol eats up a lot less bandwidth than standard HTTP/TCP/IP pages.

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