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Communications ASP Services
March/April 2001

Enhanced Services: The Wireless Wakeup Call


The technologies we have been integrating into our lives -- the Internet, communications convergence, and computers -- are now needed as we range from our desktops. Voice mail has given way to e-mail; e-mail is inundated with faxes, photographs, and art; our conferences occur via video; and they are all available on our WAP phones and on our PDAs. The gap between our wired world and our wireless world is a key link, and it is upon that link that many developing wireless ASPs are setting camp.

So the challenges are many and the answers and solutions, as varied as the grains of sand on South Beach. The major challenges facing wireless providers and ASPs will, at least for the present time, revolve around improving QoS (quality of service) issues. As quality issues are addressed, location-based services, advanced display services and devices, and other value-added services will be tacked on. The mandate of location-enabling wireless communication devices, as well as new legislation regarding use of phones while driving and in specific locations, will pose added problems and solutions.

ASP offerings are perfect for the wireless arena. Think about the technology on your desktop. What can you do? Now ask yourself where you can go with it. A little limiting, huh? By examining several issues and trends in wireless technology and philosophy, the needs of consumers and the niches that are to be developed to grow the wireless space become clearer.

The challenge greeting service providers in this new era, besides fighting off the downward NASDAQ slide, is to offer all the basics of desktop service on our portable devices. Don't get me wrong, I am not saying that we will be performing complex functions on our PDAs and WAP phones, but I am saying that these devices will enable us to access pertinent information from a variety of places. The issues of location, display size, and interface are central to designing and implementing these devices.

We live in a society that is built to coddle and enable. There are few people who truly use technology to the nines, for most it builds on the gray areas of our day -- allowing us to get work done when we otherwise could not, or allowing us to work when we should otherwise not be working, or getting work done that otherwise would not get done. Wireless is as perfect for the non-planner as it is for the planner. I am the king of forgetting to make callbacks and forgetting important engagements until the last minute, and these technologies enable me to get things done. Wireless technologies will continue to serve in this regard, but beyond even this, they are becoming the new standards of communication.

As wireless devices get smaller and smaller, not only do we lose display size, but choice as well. Even the best providers build "logic" into the system. This logic is a guesstimate of what the user needs and wants. Liken it to U.S. Democracy, where you pick what seems to be the best choice even though your first choice is not listed. This current election proves something else: You do not necessarily get what you ask for -- providers similarly use stats, research, and focus groups to determine what it is we want. The fact we are enabled to roam as we work through these devices makes us willing to give up some choices. It is a win-lose-win-lose situation. Do we behave as lemmings? I don't think it is that simple, but at the same time, we are too willing to give up freedoms in the name of convenience.

Convenience and communications go hand in hand...after all, if we cannot communicate effectively and quickly, how are we to get points across? How are we to work, period? The challenge to ASPs everywhere is to aid in the development of a new wireless order. They must cut out the unnecessary, yet still build in a large amount of choice of features and information. Now you must be willing to whittle your service down to a minimum if you want converged communications on your wireless phone, but few consumers are ready to take this step. If an ASP can marry effectively wireless communications with wired communications, consumers will respond in kind.

QoS is a big issue in the mobile wireless space. Every other e-mail I receive regarding my columns (the "No Strings Attached" column is published biweekly on is somehow related to the sub-par service a reader is offered by his or her service provider. As wireless service providers keep bundling on WAP, VoIP, and other value-added services to an already faulty system, how long can they expect consumers to just keep nodding their heads and unfolding their wallets? I know few people who are willing to use their phones (especially) and their PDAs to perform wireless tasks, simply because of issues with accuracy -- interrupted calls, and unsent or non-received e-mail and voice mail are all very common problems, if not the norm. Think of it all like breakfast: If there is no milk for the cereal do you add more raisins to make it palatable? Of course not, you get milk or you eat something else. It seems like with all the arguments over standards: There is no time for growth or better quality. Maybe U.S. service providers might gain some insight from Japan and Europe...

As we see in other regions of the world that have dealt with their QoS issues in a far better manner, the services that can be tacked onto wireless devices are many. The limiting factors are no longer technology or imagination, but screen size and user interface. Because there are so many different wireless devices, there are few unified manners of consolidating wireless data for cross-platform use. Companies who are designing software platforms for these devices that will work using different protocols are the driving force of this new generation of wireless services. Service providers and OEM manufacturers should look to these companies as the enablers of value-added services for wireless.

Speaking of value-added services, location service is a big deal in the wireless space these days, and with the FCC mandating that wireless devices must be location-enabled within the next couple years, wireless providers best begin to roll out services that capitalize on the market. The applications are almost endless, and go far beyond the aided route finding we see in many vehicles these days. Software for PDAs and phones will not only allow users the added advantage of locating local restaurants, bars, stores, rental agencies, etc., but also serve to give those businesses a new arena for advertising.

The value of advertising in this manner is great, as it allows businesses to drop e-mails or text messages to these devices as they pass through or by the doors of their shops ("Oh look, the Gap has jean jackets on sale today. Goodie."). One would hope that the advertising dollars to be made in this area would be limited to bought space in listings that would be called up when a user is looking for businesses within a certain area, but that is probably a pipe-dream. Junk mail will trail us to the grave, via paper or text messages.

Advertising by way of wireless displays is not the only thorn in the crown of wireless communications. Anyone who has been in a public place in the past four years has a story of a cellular faux pas. Ringers go off everywhere these days, from the train to the church, from the movie theatre to the doctor's office. Many restaurants in urban centers ban the use of cellular devices within the doors. How funny is it to see the smokers and the cell users out on the sidewalk in front of a bustling eatery? There is a large anti-wireless sentiment growing in circles of people who do not find the constant contact wireless offers as a benefit to their communication services.

Technologies that make cellular and wireless devices more friendly to non-users will make life a lot better for everyone, especially service providers hoping to sell more people on the benefits of wireless service plans. With technologies like Bluetooth and GPS that will continue to rapidly accelerate location-based services, ASPs may offer service providers and customers the flexibility needed to push our entire world wireless. The roots have been laid, and as we move on into this brave new century, we will continue to cut our ties to our wired past.

Mike von Wahlde is Associate Editor of Internet Telephony magazine. He also writes a biweekly column, "No Strings Attached," for He may be reached at

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