Business Will Drive Wireless Development in the US

The growth of wireless development inside the US is not likely to be driven by the same forces driving development in Europe and Asia, say industry watchers. According to Warren Wilson, director of the global and wireless practice at Boston-based technology research firm Summit Strategies, demand outside the US for advanced smart phones that run applications has come primarily from consumers. But the primary growth of the US wireless market, at least initially, will likely come from businesses, he says.

Consequently, wireless software developers burning the midnight oil to provide a "richer user experience" on mobile devices could be barking up the wrong tree, at least in the short term.

"A lot of the graphics, animation, and color—things that are going to be very important in consumer applications—are probably less important in business applications," Wilson says. "They are probably not as necessary to driving acceptance and usage in business."

Currently, an estimated 72 percent of Japanese cell-phone owners routinely connect to the Internet, compared with a mere six percent in the United States. The numbers are similar for much of Europe.

But US business is ready for wireless, Wilson says. Although US networks are considerably behind our Asian and European counterparts when it comes to SMS and other consumer-oriented mobile features, American businesses are much further along in Internet-enabling their enterprise applications.

Another factor that way see consumer interest here: Widespread PC penetration in this country (approaching 60 percent of households) has accustomed local computer users to seeing their e-mail and Web pages on full-size screens. Americans may have a harder time than the rest of the world adapting to the tiny screens of mobile computing devices, Wilson says.

"To them the wireless experience right now looks like a glass half empty," he says. "For the rest of the world, it's a glass half full."

Nextel and Motorola released the first and only Java-enabled mobile phones to be available in the US in April of this year. Ben Ho, Director of Strategic and Partner Marketing at Nextel, expects the new phones to appeal primarily to corporate users and small-to-medium-sized business owners—his company's customer base. Nextel claims some 8.3 million customers worldwide; it also claims that some 5.3 million Internet ready handsets are in the hands of those customers. Virtually all of those users are business customers.

"There are some consumers in among these users," Ho says, "but they are primarily business customers. If we're getting consumers, it's probably people who use the phones for both business and personal use."

About the Author

John K. Waters is a freelance writer based in Silicon Valley. He can be reached at [email protected].