Now its World Wireless Web

Now its World Wireless WebMajor merger deals at the CTIA Wireless 99 show in the US herald an era of mobile Internet. Tom Foremski looks at why firms are so keen on mobile surfing
Last week saw a slew of announcements from major communications companies offering wireless Internet access services.
With the Cellular Telecommunications Industry Association (CTIA) Wireless ’99 trade show in New Orleans as the backdrop, several major alliances and products were announced that will bring the World Wide Web to millions of users of cellular phones and handheld computer devices.
Motorola announced an alliance with leading network equipment firm Cisco Systems to invest more than $1bn over the next four to five years to build a wireless Internet. The two firms will develop hardware and software standards to simplify the connection of wireless devices to the Internet.
“This extends the Internet to a world without wires, and represents the first major deployment of integrated data, voice and video services under an Internet based cellular infrastructure,” said Don Listwin, executive vice-president at Cisco Systems.
Motorola also joined Netscape Communications and Unwired Planet to support Nextel Communications’ Nextel Online family of wireless Internet services. Netscape will produce an online portal called Nextel Online to help deliver Internet based services to wireless device users.
Arguably most significant of all for the UK market was Microsoft’s alliance with BT. The two companies aimto create wireless Internet services based on devices using Microsoft’s Windows CE operating system. The intention is to start first trials of such a system in the UK later this Spring on BT devices using a small web browser developed by Microsoft called a “microbrowser.”
Not to be out done Canadian communications equipment firm Nortel Networks announced what it calls its “Webtone” service, an IP-based communications network providing wireless communications devices users with access to the Internet.
“Mobile Webtone will profoundly change the way we think about wireless communications,” said Nortel CEO John Roth. “It will literally put The Net In Your Pocket, combining the power of data with the convenience of mobility for anytime, anywhere’ access to information and services over the Internet from any information appliance.”
So why the big rush all of a sudden to turn the Internet into a mobile communications service? The CTIA notes that traffic on traditional wireline telecommunications networks is more than 50 per cent data based, with most of that being Internet data.
But while wireless communications networks attract large numbers of users, less than two per cent of that traffic is computer data.
Wireless communications firms realise that by adding connections to the Internet they can attract new classes of users to which they can sell Internet services. Voice based wireless communications is growing but prices are falling due to competition.
With Internet-based data services, companies will be able to build potentially lucrative new revenues, and electronics firms will in turn benefit from new types of mass market wireless communications products.
“These announcements represent the next generation of the Internet, extending the tendrils of the Internet to wireless communications devices,” says David Birch director of UK based consultancy Hyperion.
“In Europe where there is a huge base of cellular phone users,”he adds. “Bringing the Internet to those users makes sense in terms of getting Internet based services to a large number of users.”
Birch notes that it will be simple for wireless based devices to allow users to check their bank balances and download other Internet-based information, and also engage in e-commerce.
The next issue will be, which operating system will become the standard for mobile Web browsing and the like? The recent US initiatives, especially the Microsoft alliance with BT, could challenge the potential success of the European Symbian mobile operating system joint venture. Backed by UK firm Psion, Nokia, Ericsson and Motorola, Symbian’s EPOC32 operating system is being proposed as a competitor to Microsoft’s Windows CE, which along with the support of wireless firm Qualcomm is being pushed heavily in the wireless Internet arena.
Perversely, some industry observers say that Symbian may now have a better chance of success because many communications companies do not want to see Microsoft dominating the wireless communications market in the same way that it dominates desktop computer markets.
As if to prove the point Scott McNealy, president of Sun Microsystems, gave Symbian his personal seal of approval on a recent trip to Europe, saying: “Ithink Symbian is a wonderful company”.

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