M-Commerce: Foundation and Future

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In our fast-paced Internet society, each day sees the advent of more words to describe functions and products of technology.


In reality, it hasn't been that long since we started hearing about the Internet and e-mail for the first time. Now these words are staples in our techno-savvy language.


Recent advances in wireless telecommunications have provided us with yet another Internet term, "m-commerce." M-commerce refers to mobile commerce, possibly better explained as e-commerce on a mobile phone or other mobile devices. While a relatively new trend, industry experts predict a bright future for m-commerce. According to DataQuest, San Jose, CA, an additional 33 million people will be sending and receiving text messages and completing other nonvoice functions wirelessly by 2003.


Introduction of wireless Internet. It was bound to happen. Two of the biggest technology booms of modern times - the Internet and the wireless phone - have joined to provide wireless Internet access.


Our society has evolved to where we expect access to any and all information by just a quick search online. Meanwhile, we have become accustomed to immediate communication through wireless phones. According to The Strategis Group, Washington, a telecommunications researcher, nearly 70 percent of people who use wireless phones also use the Internet. The natural outcome is the convergence of these technologies and the evolution into the wireless Internet.


In early 1999, wireless telecommunications companies hinted at possibilities by offering services such as short-text messaging that would allow customers to get brief e-mail messages on the screens of their wireless phones. While this technology offered convenient communications solutions for many, it also increased the appetite for more advances in technology.


Capabilities of the wireless Web. As is common with any service new to the marketplace, the wireless Web offers boundless opportunities that continue to evolve. The following features characterize the foundation and the future for offerings to come:


o "Pushed" information. Pushed information is information sent to the phone. This includes anything from stock quotes to weather forecasts to sports scores. Customers simply set their preferences for information and times of the day to receive updates. Then, at predetermined times, selected information is sent to the phone to be viewed on its display screen. Pushed information also can be location-based, such as traffic alerts or store advertisements. These are not in use, but they are future possibilities.


• Connectivity. Many Internet-ready phones on the market act as wireless modems. This means customers with a frequent need to access the Internet or corporate intranet from their laptop computers at remote locations can use their wireless phones instead of having to connect to a land line. To do this, customers can purchase a cable that connects from their wireless phones to their laptops. The process is easy and allows users to check e-mail, read their favorite newspapers online or perform almost any task on the Internet or corporate intranet.


• Web browsing. Many of today's Internet-ready phones have a minibrowser, enabling customers to view selected Web sites directly from the display screen. Other offerings on wireless, Internet-ready phones allow users to shop, trade stocks and get driving directions, weather forecasts, sports scores, news headlines and more.


• Wireless e-mail/business services. Customers can use their phones to send and receive e-mail using America Online, Yahoo or sprintpcs@mail.com. And now, the wireless Web enables companies to provide their employees with access to corporate e-mail, travel services, corporate directories and sales and field service automation tools. Opportunities to access a variety of information services, conduct transactions and be entertained via the Internet on a wireless phone continue to expand.


The future of m-commerce. The number of wireless phones exceeds the number of personal computers in U.S. homes. With more than 100 million wireless phone users, and only about 50 million homes with PCs, it is natural to assume that the wireless Internet will see heavy adoption rates.


Jay Highley is vice president of the business customer unit at Sprint PCS, Kansas City, MO.
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