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Despite brickbats, WAP will grow – IDC

Not necessarily to your advantage, as Finland's police show...

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The IDC European IT Forum in Monaco has been looking at whether the mobile commerce market will take off.

Gigi Wang, SVP of IDC communications and Internet research, expected a 197 per cent compound annual growth rate in the WAP-enabled phone market - but this is from a low base. It is significant that Nokia has just decided that its new mobile for the pre-paid market will not be WAP-enabled.

It is expected that the number of WAP phones will equal the number of non-WAP mobiles by 2004 - with around 1.3 billion for each sector. Fixed-access phones are expected to have a CAGR of just 19 per cent over the same period.

Eric Owen, director of IDC telecoms research, noted there was limited corporate interest in WAP phones at present, and that consumers mostly want cheap phone calls.

Tim Sheedy, IDC European wireless and mobile communications market analyst, believed that the revenue per user for voice systems will change significantly - and that SMS messaging will fade away as new packet services take over.

He though that the Vodafones of the world might increasingly decide to move into the Internet space. He also suggested that network operators might become banks, given the size of the pre-paid fees they receive, although they are keen not to be perceived as bill senders like credit card companies.

Another user group that does not offer much m-commerce promise is the mums and dads sector, often given the most popular Christmas present in the UK last year - a mobile phone. Many of these are hardly being used.

A scary notion was that m-commerce players would probably know the credit history, location and routes taken by mobile users, so that they could focus various neighbourhood services. However, pre-paid users are not expected to become avid m-commerce buyers. Nevertheless, location-based services are eventually likely to drive m-commerce.

The excessive hype for WAP has already resulted in headlines like "Scrap WAP" and "WAP’s crap," which is hardly surprising since most of the services offered of consumers are crumby at the moment, although applications for mobile users are likely to be the key to WAP-phone take-up.

The nastiest application of WAP seems to be in Finland, where the police fine speeding motorists according to their income. They’re not inclined to accept "unemployed" in response to their questions, so they WAP the Finnish tax office and get back the response they need about the appropriate fine with which to zap the motorist - all in about five seconds. ®

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