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"Local content is more important for wireless applications than in the wired world"


Madanmohan Rao interviews Bertrand Bidaud, research director, Gartner Group


Bertrand Bidaud is director of telecoms research in the Asia Pacific region for the Gartner Group, a leading consulting and market research firm. The Gartner Group (www.gartner.com) is a $734 million company with over 1,200 analysts and consultants and 35,000 clients.


Bertrand has worked previously for the telecom practice of Coopers & Lybrand in France and then in Indonesia. He carried out several strategic studies in Europe (Project Manager for the European Commission: "The role of Satellites in the Information Age") and Asia (telco business plans). Bertrand has degrees in engineering and business. He is Asia Pacific Internet Association (APIA) board member and also the editor of the APIA Newsletter.


Q: What are the key trends Gartner has noticed in wireless mobile Internet, and what can we expect to see this year?


Wireless mobile Internet (WMI) is not that old. What we have noticed is the services grew through the consumer market rather than the corporate sector initially, and with a rather young profile. There is certainly some distortion from the fact that the countries where WMI picked up first (Japan and Finland) have "wealthy kids" that find that "technology is fun". But in both countries the profile of teenagers is different: Internet savvy in Finland, technology lovers in Japan.


In the coming year, we will see WMI continue to spread in most markets, through consumer first then corporate. But in most markets, the profile of early consumers will be slightly older than in Japan/Korea (late 20's as opposed to teenagers).


In most markets, usage will become more and more "professional". We expect

to see more exciting applications taking advantage of a wider range of more

powerful devices coming on the market following GPRS deployment.


Q: What are the most popular applications you have come across of WAP (Wireless Application Protocol) usage?


1. Don't be disappointed, but the key app remains the old fashion messaging!

Instant messaging, but still messaging. To be sure, it will not be long before we will

expect our correspondent to answer email immediately as he will not even have to switch on his computer to get the message but just look at his phone screen. Those of us working with international partners will learn not to forget to switch off their phone at night or it will beep all night with messages coming from US, EU, etc.!!


2. Entertainment is big today. This is partly due to the very nature of the early adopters in some key markets like Finland, Japan and Korea. In Japan, one of the most profitable sites (not WAP though) is Bandai which "uploads" new cartoons everyday on the phone!  But beware, in the WAP environment, this would not be possible currently. Tone rings download is also very popular.


3. Stock trading in Korea as this is a trading-crazy nation, the only one where more than 50% of stockmarket turnover comes from the net! No wonder that it is big when it goes wireless.


4. In the corporate environment, banking and airline sectors  are early adopters.

They also bring awareness that enterprises could set up their own gateway

(from Nokia, Ericsson, Motorola etc.) rather than rely on mobile carriers and

loose client control.


Q: What special steps do businesses need to take to set up e-business to accommodate wireless customers? What kind of additional costs arise?


First they must identify what customers they want to target, whether they are "in the

profile", and what service they need. Then they must define a specific

application for them. The cost to develop application will be relatively low compared to marketing cost for B2C.


For B2E (corporate application, Intranet), the main cost will be education.

It is about a new way to interact with employees, and that requires dedicated effort.


Q: What tips should CEOs and design teams consider when designing a Web site

to be used by both wireless and traditional Web customers?


The first thing to admit is that it is not the same interaction. Wireless interaction requires short dialog today since content is not as rich as on the Web. Design should really focus on key applications, and make them easily reachable to mobile users. Simplicity is key. Local content is also more important than in the wired world.


Focus will be on local content and time sensitive information (instant messaging, stock trading fit in this category).


Q: How will m-commerce affect business-to-consumer (B2C) e-commerce? What's

the impact on business-to-business (B2B) e-commerce?


B2B will come later. It appears at a more mature stage, as in the wired world. First will be B2C and then corporate application (intranet).


Q: What are the top three misconceptions you notice in the way companies

approach mobile Internet applications?


1. The first misconception is that WMI application is the same application as on today's Internet with only technical differences. It is fundamentally different in nature: more local, time sensitive, and requiring simple interaction.


2. The second is that the market is mainly corporate. While this will be eventually a big part of the market, it is not the one that will pick up initially.


3. The third is that WAP is WMI. WAP is the protocol most popular currently,

especially in GSM environment. It has been the first solution considered and

enjoys tremendous support in the industry. But challenge appears from cHTML

(the compact HTML solution, used by NTT DoCoMo). If WAP does not build on its early success with widespread users adoption, the challenge will grow. WAP is only one solution, the leading one today, but should not be associated with the WMI as a whole.


Q: What kinds of security, legal and privacy issues arise with widespread WAP deployment?


Indeed, these are plenty.


m-commerce raises the issue of transaction security as today, it is impossible to provide a good level of security. Yet, it should be recognised that similar concerns did not really prevent adoption of B2C in the wired world, or simply prevent anyone of us to hand over our credit card in restaurant to someone we do not know and could easily copy any information desired. Users have proved to ignore such security risks, maybe because security incidents have seldom been publicised (only the risk is).


Then there is the issue raised by location based information. This technology permits to know where the user is. And plenty of applications will take advantage of that. Yet, this is very tricky. "Big brother eye"... do we want really somebody else to know so much about us? Who will own this information? The service provider? Will there be any limit to what he can do with it? Can he sell this to any one, or should he keep it only for himself? Should he keep a record of where we have been, or should it be just knowledge of the instant location? This will keep busy policy makers for some time...


Then there is the issue of content accessibility. Will WMI be a "walled garden", an area whose content is controlled by the service provider (like AOL in the early days), or an open field, where the user can access all content available (like on the Internet)? Various decisions have been made; in Europe, regulators have rules for open field approach, but in many Asian countries, regulators tend to leave this to market forces to decide.


Q: Which countries have the most favorable WMI environments in place?


Currently, the main difference really lies in the way regulators looks at content. It is too early to say which one is the best. Europe has larger markets than exists in most Asian countries. It makes sense to believe that operators want to leverage their investment though content revenue (hence the walled garden approach).


Yet, this may harm the growth of the service rather quickly. While this may be appropriate today, it would certainly undermine the growth tomorrow. It is too early to say that it will, though. Finland is clearly a country where WAP is successful. Japan is a

country where WMI is, and both have an "open" approach.


Q: How do you see WAP and 3G co-existing in the marketplace? What competing

dynamics are we likely to see in this regard, and how should companies position their B2C/B2B offerings in such a scenario?


WAP and 3G may not be opposed to each other. WAP is currently available for

circuit switched application, and will evolve to be "richer" for GPRS. It

must evolve for 3G. There are concerns that the consensus approach in WAP

will make it too slow for 3G, and therefore will give way to some other

solution. The WAP consortium is working on future evolution now. The way WAP and

3G will coexist is not clear. But odds are that there will be different

solutions provided by service providers. WAP risks being a "legacy protocol".


Asia and Europe will lead U.S. deployment of the "W-Web" because of the severely

fragmented wireless standards, coverage, and contiguous spectrum needed for

3G and fast-enough W-Web.  In the U.S., the issue of spectrum allocation is

not settled yet.


Q: What WAP/3G consulting/research services does your company offer clients?


Our core competency is in understanding the market dynamic. The key is not to know where the market will be in ten years, but how it will evolve, what the customer profile will be at each stage so that each firm can adopt the right strategy at each stage. This is where we come in. We provide either syndicated research, through our worldwide base of analysts that look at who is doing what each day, what succeeds and what fails, and why.


We also provide customised service through our consulting team that leverages our experience to the specific requirement of our customers.




The writer can be reached at madan@techsparks.com



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