Wireless data is the norm, not the exception to the rule

The immense number of wireless data services and devices are making it very attractive for companies to develop wireless applications as customer benefits according to a recent study by International Data Corp. in Framingham, Mass.

Although the study states that the U.S. is still far behind the likes of Western Europe in the mobile market, U.S. mobile voice and data subscribers will account for 50 per cent of that population by 2004.

The IDC study proposed three key recommendations for businesses seeking to develop wireless applications, otherwise known as m-commerce.

According to Gigi Wang, senior vice-president of communications and research, and author of the IDC study, the recommendations attempt to clarify any misconceptions about m-commerce. Wang suggests to identify your customer’s need and target you application; don’t expect mobile devices to be replacements for PCs; and don’t confuse your mobile wireless strategy with your e-commerce strategy – use mobile to bolster e-commerce activities.

“Our society is becoming so mobile,” she said. “The thing is that there are very few applications, or very specific applications that require true mobility. I think companies are struggling with that right now.”

Wang said that the key recommendation is to understand that in order to deploy an m-commerce application, three things are required.

“You need to know that your audience is a mobile device-carrying audience. The second thing is that you need to partner with a technology company that provides the service, and you have to add mobility to your applications,” she said.

Wang explained that it is also important to understand that the wireless Web is not simply the Internet on a smaller form factor. She said that a lot of companies need to realize that m-commerce is not a replacement for e-commerce. In fact, she said that m-commerce is an enabler of e-commerce.

“M-commerce helps initiate e-commerce,” she said. “It doesn’t necessarily mean that the transaction will be executed on a mobile device. It adds to customer satisfaction and it enables the mobility of society today, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that you will generate more transactions that are initiated on a mobile device.”

A good example, she said, is Amazon.com. She said that a consumer in a bookstore might want to comparison shop for price and surf to Amazon.com on their mobile device. However, she added that there is really no immediate urgency to place that order right away.

“M-commerce helps with customer satisfaction to be able to get information whenever you need it,” she said.

According to Waterloo, Ont.-based Research in Motion (RIM), many of its partners have business plans that include offering m-commerce applications using RIM’s BlackBerry wireless handheld devices.

“We agree that m-commerce is a new means for doing business – it’s not a whole new business,” said Mark Guibert, vice-president of brand marketing for RIM. “Mobile devices should not replace PCs. Rather, customers want mobile solutions that allow users to access their existing corporate information or access information from the Web.”

Guibert offered that RIM has achieved m-commerce success in the areas of e-mail, stock information, banking transactions and travel applications through its BlackBerry device.

“I think it’s fair to think of m-commerce as an evolutionary step, Guibert said. “Consider the banking industry. We evolved from central banks to branch/neighbourhood banks to ATMs to Web banking to wireless banking. All of these mediums are focussed on customer service and all of these mediums continue to co-exist today.”

IDC’s Wang said that today, wireless is no longer the leading, bleeding edge. “It is so much the norm to allow people access to information from a wireless device that it really has become the exception not to … support it.”

For details on the study, visit www.idc.com.