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By 2004, 74 million people – or one-third of wireless users – will have access to the wireless Web, according to a report by Boston-based Aberdeen Group Inc. That growth presents a tremendous opportunity for enterprises looking to take competitive advantage of the medium. But even if they don’t want to start wireless information delivery now, companies must begin planning for it.

“It may sound self-evident,” says Kelly Quinn, the report’s coauthor and Aberdeen senior research analyst, “but we need to start seeing CIOs take a look at wireless as a delivery channel to the customers.”

The report notes that certain markets – banking, finance, location-based services, advertising and impulse purchases – will be the first to use mobile commerce (m-commerce), but Quinn says that every company should start working wireless into its strategic planning.

“It’s just another means of connecting,” she says. “Instead of having your IT strategy and then your wireless strategy, you’ll have your IT strategy that includes the access method of wireless.”

Quinn says IT managers need to step back and evaluate how important it is to get wireless access to their customers now. If it is important, they should look at wireless access protocol, Palm OS or similar options. But even if it’s not crucial, she warns, they shouldn’t leave wireless on the back burner.

“I strongly recommend that folks in that advantageous position really start planning their strategy for the next 12 to 18 months down the road,” Quinn says.

And users shouldn’t put all their faith in XML as the ultimate wireless panacea that will allow them to quickly retrofit data to any platform. “That’s something that still needs to be sorted out,” Quinn says. “I think the WAP [wireless application protocol] environment is more sorted out than that question, which isn’t saying much.”

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