The hype around wireless has been deafening.
Written for a business audience.
Users will be able to get any kind of info at any time: stock quotes, music and ratings of the restaurant you're standing in front of are some of the more popular ideas. You'll always be connected to a web of advertising and content, where ever you go, whatever you are doing. The statistics promise exploding connectivity and spending in m-commerce within a few years. So how exactly do businesses in the wireless space plan to make that money?
Cell phone overload
A first source of income can be the phones themselves. The amount of cell phones and wireless gadgets being developed is rather impressive. And once technologies like Bluetooth (your TV is wireless connected to your phone) and UMTS (high speed WAP) deliver on their technical promises, the amount of toys we'll be able to play with will be truly impressive.
First comer advantage?
An important question any business in the wireless space has to consider is the first comer advantage. Being the first to invest in a new technology has proven a disadvantage quite often in the past. Will newcomers be able to compete with giants like Yahoo and AOL, who, as opposed to the old media giants of yore, should find it rather easy to embrace the wireless web?
Will there be the same amount of opportunities in wireless we had when the Internet took off, which is often assumed? Or is it a different ballgame altogether?
First the business market
To justify the enormous investment they've been doing, especially in the UMTS networks (1), wireless companies will need to start earning some serious revenue soon. Therefore they will probably focus on the business users first. These people find it important to be available all the time, and the can afford the services and the toys.
Location based services:
Heralded by some as the killer app of the wireless web, location based services mean you can get information based on where you are with your phone. In the US, from October 2001 on every phone call has to be localizable within 125 meters by law. This opens up lots of opportunities for location based services.
For example, your phone could tell you if the restaurant you're standing in front of has had good reviews recently, or it could give you a list of nightclubs within walking distance. 911 wouldn't have to ask where you are if you call them.
Remember however, many analysts warn that technologically sophisticated location-based services are still a while away.
While even the most optimistic of wireless evangelists agree big purchases over the phone aren't likely to happen anytime soon, many see lots of opportunities for small payments.
But what advantage has your phone over a switch card for small payments? Especially in Europe smart cards are already widely accepted, while consumer acceptance of paying with your phone is uncertain. Will the phone converge with the smart card?
Will voice be the killer app of the wireless web?
Some analysts think the killer app of the wireless Web on phones will be voice. They don't mean traditional phone calls, they mean telling a computer what you want and getting information.
Essentially, they are saying the interface to get information will be voice driven. Your phone could read you your email, for example, or could tell you about upcoming traffic jams. Again, the technology to make this painless is not quite here yet (VXML is moving fast though) , but it sounds like a valid idea.
Teenagers are often the first to embrace any new technology. Just look at the success of text messaging in Europe, or I-mode in Japan.
Companies will probably go after the kids by offering wireless gaming. Some companies are experimenting now with having virtual characters sending you messages while you're at school for example. Or the phone may be used to actually call that Evil Overlord of your game World and vocally give him a piece of your mind.
Music on demand.
If and when broadband really arrives, your phone could be your radio. Streaming music on demand, from a public server, or your own PC.
Sounds good, but this one suffers from the same problem many of these plans fail to take into account: radio is not new. There is no added value for the consumer, who already has a myriad of little gadgets that let him carry music around.
There are certainly some great opportunities in the wireless space. But use your common sense: if the technology is uncertain, or the advantage to the consumer is uncertain it is probably risky to invest heavily in the business plan relying on those.
I believe the wireless revolution will give birth to hundreds or even thousands of different devices who will fight a Darwinian war for the attention of the user. I don't think there's any way to predict who will win that war, there will probably lots of winners, and even more losers.
Interesting times ahead.