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Clutching their mobile phones and muttering, "The gateways don’t work...", application developers and Ericsson executives tried to demonstrate their Wireless Application Protocol (WAP) on that very rare device, the WAP-enabled mobile phone. But technical glitches such as these didn’t dampen spirits at the Ericsson Mobile Data Conference in Zurich. With the optimism and accepting demeanour that only early adopters seem to possess, conference participants heard that shops in Sweden are developing "Bluetooth Bubbles" and that you can’t date a girl in Finland until you’ve sent her at least three SMS (Short Message Service) messages. Furthermore, consumers will use their mobile phones to buy "instant insurance" before traversing a snow covered Furkapass. The CEO of the country’s digital certificate agency, Swisskey, who offered this scenario, seemed genuinely hurt when the crowd burst into laughter at the thought of upping your insurance coverage rather than a; turning back or b; putting on tyre chains. Despite all the hype, the GSM-based mobile Internet service is beset by problems, volume delivery of the handsets has yet to take place and now there are apparent problems with the current version of WAP gateway software. The conference is the first of a series of events, dubbed SWAP, sponsored by Ericsson to help grow the market for its WAP, GPRS (packet data over GSM), and UMTS (third generation cellular with broadband capacity) infrastructure equipment and end user products. Ericsson’s vision of people sending digital photos, instead of picture postcards, from holiday destinations to the slightly larger than postage stamps sized screens of friends’ mobile phones was a stretch. But when queried on that, Jan van Hemert, Manager Business Development Wireless and GSM Systems, assured The Register that the majority of digital camera manufacturers are selling new models with Bluetooth built in. What really seems to make sense is the concept of location based services, exploiting either cellular network technology or GPS (global positioning system) chips built into the cellular phone. The idea of using the handy as a compass and map replacement seems to be a sure thing. More interestingly, there are dozens of other types of applications enabled if you know the location of the caller, for both consumer and corporate users. If the diversity of attendees at the Zurich event is any indication, then this next and the following generation of mobile data services will be spread across a lot more industries than current wireless data services. There were IT groups from most of Switzerland’s blue chip companies, for example, ABB, Novartis, SAir, Bank Julius Baer, Credit Suisse, UBS, and Kühne & Nagel. There were also representatives from regional hospitals, insurers, news agencies, couriers, newspapers, fixed network operators, and of course, portal owners. ®

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