Wireless Hype Phase 1

As wireless technology hype builds in the United States, it instills every dot-com company with the conviction that it must include wireless commerce in its operating strategy. Meanwhile, a changing attitude toward wireless technology is brewing in Northern Europe. How will we respond to Scandinavia’s dwindling faith in and increasing skepticism about the efficacy of wireless technology?

You see, wireless commerce isn’t as hot as it was in Northern European countries, say, six months ago. What happened? Why have Scandinavian countries, representing two of the world’s three mobile phone giants, apparently lost their belief in what was once the hot new technology of the world’s consumer and communications future?

You’ll recall that the World Wide Web as we know it was greeted with the same enthusiasm five years ago that is now being given to wireless technology. Half a decade ago, the World Wide Web hype was particularly high in Scandinavia, especially in Sweden. This conviction in the web’s communications efficacy and apparent marketing ubiquitousness saw Sweden create a national policy that demanded every Swedish consumer be connected to the Net within two years. That policy saw fruition, as Internet penetration in Sweden stands at 50 percent — the world’s highest.

But just two years later, in 1997, the trend changed. The much-vaunted e-commerce and Net-advertising-revenue bonanza never happened. Concern over this lack of return spread across the whole of Scandinavia and gave consumers a healthy dose of skepticism about this new media. But by the end of 1998, optimism returned, and by 1999, the Internet was entrenched as a commercial and communications vehicle.

So, back to the wireless trend. If you look carefully, you’ll see the same reception pattern for wireless potential as that initially given to the Internet. In Scandinavia, wireless Internet technology was saluted with gusto. Now, consumer and commercial enthusiasm for wireless technology is fading. The rest of the world is likely to follow the pattern set by the Scandinavians. The same skepticism for the Internet in 1997 is now being focused on wireless technology.

The questions that have prompted the cooling of this hot new media are many and relevant. How do we make money from wireless technology? How will we handle marketing via wireless media? What branding value will we gain by adopting a wireless stream? What’s the answer to user-friendly technology that capitalizes on the benefits of wireless technology?

The cloud of questions, uncertainties, and insecurities forming over wireless application protocol (WAP) indicate that the technology is too complex, unstable, and difficult for consumers to use. Even senior Nokia staff members explain that the new Nokia mobile phones don’t include WAP because Nokia no longer believes in the potential of wireless technology.

These questions don’t focus on WAP itself, but on wireless technology’s practical adaptability in the commercial environment. The questions surround the wireless Internet, not WAP, which is just one of many standards available on the market.

Just as the World Wide Web underwent a posthype period of calm and reflection on the part of users, marketers, and retailers worldwide (a period of doubt led by Northern Europe) in 1998 and 1999, the wireless Internet will do likewise. The protocol’s name might alter, but you can be sure wireless technology will play a role in the Internet’s future.

Last week, AOL announced its partnership with NTT’s DoCoMo as a means of introducing the Japanese imode platform to the United States. WAP is advanced compared to DoCoMo’s imode technology. (The two could suggest a contemporary parallel to the old Betacam versus VHS competition.)

But what counts? Not the complexity and innovation of technology. What counts is the simplicity and user-friendliness of technology, and that there is an excellent distribution strategy behind it.

The wireless Internet is here to stay, but we can’t say for sure about WAP. DoCoMo is running its race by introducing a simple version of a product, one that people use with alacrity in Japan and one that has opened doors in new communications thinking and expectations. The Japanese showed the world their technological power in the ’70s, and it looks like they’re likely to cross the wireless-race finish line in the best of health.


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