Go mobile -- now!

By Peter G.W. Keen, Computerworld |  Development

The next major shift in the use of IT will obviously be toward wireless and mobile commerce. It will happen in fits and starts, with the usual hype, chaos and clutter, disappointments and brilliant innovations -- just like with e-commerce. In many ways, m-commerce is the continuation of e-commerce with the Palm handheld, wireless laptops and a new generation of Web-enabled digital phones already on the market. Their effectiveness and range of applications today is limited by a lack of bandwidth, but that bottleneck is being removed, albeit in a piecemeal and fragmented way.

In one key regard, though, m-commerce is very different from e-commerce. E-commerce has been paced by U.S. technology and business innovation, particularly in the business-to-business market; there are approximately 20 firms selling US$1 billion to $20 billion worth of goods over the Internet -- yet none are outside the U.S.

But in wireless and m-commerce, the U.S. is a laggard. This has substantial implications for IT organizations. They largely don't know what's going on elsewhere and risk getting left behind in exploiting m-commerce. The fragmentation, unreliability, cost and poor quality of U.S. cell phone services, as well as the equally fragmented rollout of broadband services like Digital Subscriber Line, have all resulted in close to zero interest among consumers in wireless Internet tools, according to surveys. Early this year, Consumer Reports said that satisfaction levels with mobile phones were among the lowest in any of its studies, below that for lawyers.

Meanwhile, the rest of the world is moving fast, and IT developers in this country must play the role of followers in the m-commerce arena. Here are a few questions (followed by the answers) that can help you calibrate your knowledge:

1. Which company is the largest provider of mobile phone services?

2. What is GPRS?

3. What is WAP?

4. Which country has close to 100 percent mobile phone coverage among its adults and is the world leader in m-commerce applications?

5. What is DoCoMo?

6. What is SMS?

7. Which company has the largest share -- 35 percent -- of the world mobile handset market?

These aren't trick questions; the answers appear in many articles in the daily press. They are as follows:

1. The U.K.'s Vodafone Group PLC is the largest mobile company in the world, with a well-established strategy of massive acquisitions worldwide.

2. General Packet Radio Service (GPRS) is the 2.5G bit/sec. broadband wireless capability that fills the gap between first-generation digital phones and the massive, planned ? and much-delayed ? third-generation wireless services.

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