Local telecommunications companies seem to have been caught napping as others move in to grasp the wireless opportunity. According to Sydney-based online intelligence company APT Strategies, while business to wireless (B2W) is the most profitable wireless sector in Australia, 60 per cent of local telecommunications carriers lack the expertise to grasp the opportunity and need to accelerate partnership programs, focussing on application developers with professional service teams.
One company that's not waiting for the telcos to wake up is local virtual community software company HarvestRoad. The company's ConvertML software offering, due for a planned launch in February, is designed to WAP (wireless application protocol)-enable Web sites or portals independently of a telecommunications or service provider.
"Although telecommunications, hardware and software businesses making a foray into WAP technology are increasing in Australia, our product's competitive advantage is that it's not dependent on any service provider," says HarvestRoad managing director Grame Barty. "What's more, it will provide Web site owners with access to sites directly through mobile devices, eliminating the need for site conversion."
According to Barty, it's also a significant breakthrough in time-to-market, allowing businesses to address the expanding move to wireless and to be competitive by offering WAP access to critical information services from the Web site owner's site.
Meanwhile, APT believes that new "mobile virtual network operators" (MVNOs), along the lines of Virgin Mobile's joint venture with the Australian operations of C&W Optus, will also rapidly steal market share from telecommunications carriers.
APT chief analyst Paul Koffler believes the Australian market place will support a pre-paid wireless Internet access with an upper pricing range of $50 ($US27) per month by 2003. With the cost of mobile wireless Internet access expected to decrease and usage times expected to increase, he recommends that wireless service providers target the communications, community and entertainment aspects of wireless applications. His advice to telecommunications carriers is to create pure-play wireless Internet services that are branded to capture the emerging youth market, the most frequent users of short messaging service (SMS).
"The asset-poor, time-rich teen market has higher penetration rates of wireless Internet access compared with other target markets," says Koffler. "Entertainment is the largest revenue generator for Japan's DoCoMo iMode service, for example, and is forecast to be the leading application for wireless Internet users in Europe by 2003."
Louise Weihart is a journalist on ARN's sister publication The Australian Industry Standard