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"M-commerce" is distinct from "Web commerce"

Madanmohan Rao interviews Shashi Vempati, senior wireless consultant, Infosys Technologies

Shashishekhar Vempati, an alumnus of IIT Bombay, is a Senior Wireless Consultant at Infosys Technologies in Bangalore. Shashi assists wireless operators define their mobile Internet strategy and in the development of platforms that will enable next generation wireless Internet services.

Q: What are the top three trends you have noticed in the wireless mobile Internet market, and what can we expect to see in the coming year?


While technologies like WAP and GPRS have been in the making for the last two

to three years, mainstream Wireless Mobile Internet (WMI) can be said to be about a

year old. By mainstream I mean WAP based mobile Internet services made

available by cellular operators.

In the pre-WAP era, SMS clearly has been the most popular trend by enabling two-way messaging and mobile e-mail. But it is 2000 and 2001 which will belong to the mobile Internet. The most important developments in my opinion are - success of I-Mode in Japan, widespread availability of WAP and GPRS in Europe, and launch of 3G in Japan in 2001.

The launch of 3G in Japan is of particular interest as it would give us a glimpse of what the next generation wireless Internet is likely to shape up into.

Q: What are some of the notable success stories you have come across of WAP usage

for e-business?


While it is too early to talk of WAP success stories, there are a lot of potential contenders with very interesting concepts in Europe, such as Amadeus which  provides a WAP based travel service, Webraska which provides a WAP based navigation service, Paybox which provides a bill payment service, and NECS which provides an e-mail aggregation service.

It would be very interesting to watch out how all of them fare. But there can be no two opinions on the fact that "the" mobile Internet success story till date has been I-Mode in

Japan. I-Mode is provided by NTT DoCoMo and the most successful of services provided over I-Mode has been Bandai which allows for the download of

cartoons and melodies. The next most popular service on I-Mode is a fishing

game introduced by Dwango.

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


Businesses need to understand a basic fact - "Wireless is Not the Web".

Businesses first need to understand their customers to identify where they

can provide the greatest value in a mobile environment. This could range

from pushing promotional rewards to facilitating impulsive shopping over

mobile phones. Having figured out the mobile commerce strategy, businesses

would have to m-enable their e-commerce and CRM systems.

The cost of m-enabling primarily would be that of re-writing the existing applications

to make them WAP or I-Mode compatible. There could be additional costs which

the businesses would have to bear if they want to leverage cellular networks

for providing value added services based on location information.

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 way to go is XML. Sites should be designed using XML for organising the

content and adapting it appropriately to either HTML, CHMTL or WML based on

the channel of delivery -  Web, WAP or I-Mode. It is also important in

design to bear in mind that a user would access a service over wireless for

performing highly prioritized operations which are time and location

sensitive -- unlike a user accessing the service over the Internet who usually

has time and flexibility on his side.

So design the wireless version of the service to enable high priority "Here and Now" operations while keeping the wired version loaded with all possible options.

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

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


M-Commerce will eventually overtake B2C commerce. The cellular phone will

fast transform from a voice device to be the key enabler of secure mobile

commerce in the 21st century, and by its mobile nature it will become the

instrument for conducting every day sundry transactions -- something which is

difficult for B2C e-commerce to achieve.

The impact on B2B e-commerce would however be more in the direction of providing mobile extensions. An example is a clearinghouse interacting with various individual agents through mobile devices for carrying out B2B commerce.

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

approach mobile Internet applications?


1. Assuming that the mobile Internet is WWW on the cellular phone.

2. Assuming that it's just a matter of converting HTML to WML or CHTML.

3. Assuming uniformity and ubiquity, i.e. all phones have the same look and feel.

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

WAP deployment?


Security is a matter of concern with WAP given the current architecture

which makes the WAP gateway a potential security hole. There are legal

issues surrounding WAP primarily to do with intellectual property rights.

Privacy issues could arise with the current trend to store cookies in the

WAP gateway.

Cookies are a mechanism by which web-sites store information of

a user and have been at the centre of privacy debates on the Internet.

Traditionally cookies have been stored on the desktop but in the WAP world

few phones have the ability to store cookies leading to cookies of different

users being stored in the operator's WAP gateway.

Q: Which countries have the most favourable WAP environments in place? How

does India stack up in this regard?


Europe without doubt is well placed for WAP to take off. Europe with its

focus on standards has achieved 100% ubiquity with the adoption of GSM.

North America has traded innovation and diversity for ubiquity with a slew

of cellular technologies like AMPS, TDMA, CDMA, GSM, IDEN.

While the CDMA and IDEN networks in North America have been the first off the block to roll out WAP services, the GSM and TDMA networks have been slow on the roll-out.

The reasons for the delay range from non-availability of handsets to networks requiring upgrades. The consolidation in the North American cellular industry has also had its impact on the roll-out. While Sprint, AT&T, Nextel have rolled out their WAP based services, Verizon has been slow off the block. SBC-BellSouth is yet to project a clear strategy on its roll-out of WAP.

In India fortunately we have followed Europe in adopting the GSM standard and hence we are very well placed to ride the WAP, GPRS and 3G wave. Most operators have already announced roll-out of WAP services and with the roll-out of GPRS next year India is set to become a cellular hot spot.

Q: Any other parting thoughts/advice for Indian Internet professionals?


M-enable your knowledge and skills to excel in the mobile Internet services

space. An understanding of technologies like WAP, SIM Application Tool-kit,

SMS, XML would be key to success in this space.


The writer can be reached at madan@techsparks.com


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