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Mia Carley CommBiz

Assistant Producer,™

[July 24, 2000]

Friends Don't Let Friends Shop And Drive

I have a confession to make: I don't own a mobile phone. I think I may be one of the last not to own one -- even my fourteen year-old cousin sports a shiny new Nokia. I guess I find the whole mobile phone social scene a bit annoying -- people chatting and driving (swerving), disclosing their entire lives to passersby as they walk down the street, and even the ever-present ringing of phones in restaurants and other public places. I still like to think of a mobile phone as an emergency tool, not a social identity.

So, you can imagine my concern when I started to see more and more news about  m-commerce, or mobile commerce, initiatives. (Not that mobile phones are the only way to partake in m-commerce -- PDAs and laptops also play an important role.) I can't think of a more noxious cocktail than America's appetite for shopping mixed with their over-reliance on mobile devices, particularly phones. Is it really necessary to combine the two?

My personal feelings aside, mobile commerce is coming. Frost & Sullivan expect the world mobile commerce markets to reach $45 billion by 2005.  As the Web moves to wireless, it's only natural that e-commerce follow suit.  It's the next logical step in e-commerce. E-commerce has wormed its way into the wide world of mobile communications, beginning with the advent of mobile financial services and Web-enabled phones and PDAs. 

Follow The Leader?
It's hard to say whether the United States or Europe will actually lead in the m-commerce revolution. Europeans command the lion's share of the mobile market, due in great part to acceptance of the GSM (Global System For Mobile Communications) standard, which allows Europeans to use their phones throughout the continent. According to a recent white paper from Datamonitor, good QoS (Quality of Service), declining costs, and increased competition have also contributed to this large mobile phone population. Having two of the world's largest mobile phone makers -- Nokia and Ericsson -- located in the north lends a helping hand to their dominant market share.

However, the United States leads the way in Internet use -- meaning more homes and people are getting online. While Europe's technological standards and developments may seem to place them as the m-commerce leader, there are factors in the United States that may lead to a larger m-commerce market at home rather than abroad. Datamonitor points out several of these reasons:

  • Single Language. (A hotly debated point, but let's just say English is America's single language for argument's sake.) The single-language situation in the U.S. makes it easier to for application vendors and content providers to market to a large population. In Europe, various languages make this task a bit more difficult.
  • Greater Internet Usage. Internet usage is higher in the U.S., which has resulted in a greater number of people purchasing online and a dominant share of the e-commerce markets.
  • Money And Talent. There's a greater abundance of both money and intellectual talent needed to develop the m-commerce infrastructure residing in the U.S. When push comes to shove, much of the development is expected to be done in the States.

Whether or not m-commerce takes off in Europe or the U.S. first, the fact remains that mobile communications is on the rise worldwide -- and m-commerce isn't far behind. It's also important to note the mature mobile communications market in Japan will play a key role in m-commerce as, will China as their infrastructure and markets develop and open up.

Buckle-Up For Safety
The idea of m-commerce is very appealing, especially for those who find themselves wasting time in the car during a long commute, at the airport waiting for their flight to come in, or with a very tight schedule. However, like e-commerce, m-commerce comes with its share of security concerns. With more and more customer and business information flowing over wireless connections through cell phones, laptops, and PDAs, the potential threat is huge. A recent Gartner Group news release recommended the use of access controls on wireless devices, strong authentication, and link encryption as proper security measures for safer and secure m-commerce. As of now, fewer than 10 percent of wireless implementations include these precautions.

Road Hazards
Should you expect to see more swerving cars in the middle of rush hour traffic? Let's hope not -- shopping and driving can prove to be a deadly mix. You should certainly expect easier ways to make purchases -- a nice convenience during the holiday rush or close to a loved one's birthday or anniversary. Like e-commerce, m-commerce will probably also experience some growing pains as more people "log on," so be prepared for QoS issues.

The real question is whether or not m-commerce is ready for you. Will your information and transactions be secure? Will it make your life easier? Will you be satisfied with the interface and the support you receive? However you answer those questions, remember: Friends don't let friends shop and drive. Please.

Mia Carley welcomes your comments at

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