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UMTS and Common Sense

UMTS and Common Sense

Will WAP and m-services really matter in, say, two years? Will the many billions of dollars spent on getting UMTS licenses in auctions around Europe actually pay off, or will 802.11b (wireless Ethernet) cut a corner, like it already seems to have done with Bluetooth - after that disastrous attempt at demonstrating it at CEBIT in Germany earlier this year - and become the standard? Add to that the convergence between XHTML and WML, and what it will mean for home page/WAP service developers.

Frankly, I understand the frustration of the big WAP terminal and microbrowser producers, which is probably what made them decide that WAP was moving forward too slowly, and started them working on m-services instead. In theory it's an excellent idea to get a lot of players to cooperate, but if politics begin to take more time than getting standards expansions out to the developers and, consequently, the users, something's wrong.

Yet will talking about certificates, mobile payments and fancy GUIs actually mean that m-services will make a difference in the mobile market? In a few years, when the convergence between the "old" Internet, and the mobile ditto (and therefore the developing tools) will be the same for both fixed and mobile platforms, will m-services really be able to make more than just a dent in the mobile market? I'm not too sure. It seems a safe bet to develop using XML and XSLT and then wait and see.

In a previous issue of Wireless Business & Technology (Vol. 1, issue 5), I ironized over the fact that some people don't seem to trust their phone company's integrity and, consequently, the safety of using their WAP gateway. I have to admit that I've now actually experienced how a phone company can seem to be without integrity.

Tiscali, which not only sponsors a bicycle team in the Tour de France, but also, among other things, offers fixed wireless access (FWA) to the Internet as well as GSM (cellular) accounts, is at present seemingly trying to get rid of their customers, through a mass mailing of unsubstantiated claims of payment without services rendered, as well as intimidation of those who won't pay. Wireless Business & Technology contacted the mother company to get their view (to no avail), while the local branch refuses to go on record as saying or committing to anything. Meanwhile, it's a story that's being picked up by several newspapers. So yes, I now agree that there are cases when it can be necessary to have a secure line around the phone operators' gateway. Caveat emptor seems to be the eternally sound piece of advice.

Such occurrences tell us that we're in for some changes. Big WAP terminal producers have suddenly found themselves in a declining market as they reach maturity in the industrialized countries and scramble to get out of terminal production. The market now seems to focus on value-added services and all the areas that surround them by the simple act of providing Internet access. In addition to customer relations, creating more user-friendly systems is of key importance. What good is it to have a plethora of WAP services available, if the sales clerk at the store never mentions anything about it to the customer purchasing a terminal? Not to mention half the search engines reportedly are showing serious user-interaction problems.

I recently got a Psion Revo, with a 240 x 180 pixel screen. I love the machine and how it enables me to stay in contact with the world when I'm on the move. Too bad it requires my Siemens S35i and its built-in modem to communicate. And I had to pay an extra $25 to get a WAP browser for the PDA. What's the business sense in that? Considering that Psion is a British company, and consequently should know all about WAP expansion in its home market, it makes little sense to have customers go through the hassle of buying an extra piece of software like a WAP microbrowser, when it would hardly affect the end price to include it in the first place. The terminal producers need to get a better sense of perspective - or at least a bit of common sense - integrated into their strategic thinking.

More Stories By Hans-Henrik Ohlsen

Hans-Henrik T. Ohlsen, WAP editor of WBT, is a member of the Danish
Data Asociation, where he heads the Experience Exchange Group
on Wireless Applications (WAP, Bluetooth, 3G). Hans is also a member
of the Communications and Internet Council.

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