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Monday, 27 November, 2000, 12:33 GMT
A simple guide to m-commerce
Teenager using mobile phone
Can phone companies convince teenagers Wap is trendy?
Sceptics may already be writing off mobile commerce.

But a large part of the population probably still don't know what it is.

For those who don't, the simple answer is that it allows you to access some internet services and carry out some transactions on your mobile phone.

For those that do know, the message is hang in there, it should get better.

Hip and trendy

So, what do you need to know?

For starters, don't call it the mobile internet.

Calling it that only raises people's expectations to a level at which they can't be matched, cry the marketing people who called it that for months before they realised their mistake.

The big m-commerce success story that everyone in Europe and the US hopes to emulate is i-Mode, a device that every hip and trendy teenager in Japan has to have.

i-Mode is big in Japan, largely because it is cheap, fast and offers access to about 600 official sites and thousands of unofficial sites.

Users can send e-mails, transfer funds between bank accounts, book plane tickets, find the nearest hotel or restaurant, play interactive games, check their horoscope and download melodies.

Big in Europe?

But will it be big here?

In theory, it should be - if the lessons of Japanese success are followed.

Here, everyone is still waiting for the "killer application", that which will convince the buying public that they need to have an internet-enabled phone.
Mobile telephone screen
Is this screen big enough for you?

Once the novelty has worn off, you may not want to have to peer at a tiny screen to read your bank details. Hopefully, by then, the mobile phone makers will have made bigger and better phones.

Bigger and better should also mean more secure.

Fraud goes mobile

The fear is that a fraudster could literally pluck sensitive information out of the air.

The issues are the same as that of the fixed-line internet, getting sensitive data safely from you to your bank or retailer.

Providing solutions may be made more difficult by the fact that mobile phones are smaller and have less power than your desktop computers. Or then again, the fact they have less power may make them less attractive to hackers.

Confused? We haven't even got to standards yet.

Speed and power

Wap, or wireless application protocol, is the current mobile internet platform.

It works currently on the GSM network, then there will be GPRS, general packet radio system, and then there will be UMTS, Universal Mobile Telecommunications System.

These three can basically be divided into fast, faster and really speedy. Anything else is technical details for mobile phone companies to worry about.

What mobile phone companies are worrying about is how to make a profit from all of this.

Across Europe, these companies have paid billions of dollars for licences to sell UMTS services, and hope to recoup this money by selling these phones.

Show us the money

If they charge high prices for these services, they may find they have broken one of the first rules of Japanese success - keeping it cheap.

The mobile operators aren't the only ones hoping to profit from mobile commerce.

Hardware companies and content providers are also joining the fray.

It could be even more difficult for these companies to make money selling stuff via mobile phones than it is for them to sell it on the fixed-line internet.

Some of their future revenue streams could go up in smoke if they find that users don't want random advertisements popping up on their mobile phone.

All these ifs and buts stand between mobile phone companies and their future profits.

As for everyone else, they just have to cross their fingers and hope its as good as it is cracked up to be.

Mobile web worries
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