New Revenue Models in Wireless Market

Yeah, yeah, yeah… you may already be sick of the hype. Everywhere you turn lately, from web developer magazines to the various computer weeklies, all the way to Ad Age (Ad Age? Yes, Ad Age!), there’s been non-stop coverage of what’s going on with the coming explosion in wireless.

Heck, I’ve been as guilty as the rest of them, writing several articles in the last few weeks on the subject. And though my incredibly good (but long-suffering) editor, Claudia, might have other plans, I’m going to write another one. But this one’s going to actually accomplish something it’s going to give you the first inkling of how to make money and market to those massed wireless audiences out there.

First of all, if you haven’t experienced the wireless web yet, hop on over to either Phone.com or Gelon.net for a taste.

Both sites feature loads of information and resources on the up-and-coming wireless web and both let you use “virtual phones” that simulate the wireless experience. You have to sign up for the “developer” area in Phone.com and download their stand-alone simulator, or you can use Gelon’s Wapalizer to access wireless sites (which often start with “wap.” or end in “.wml”). Gelon’s also has links to a bunch of them if you want to surf around and see what’s out there.

One thing you might discover as soon as you start using one of these simulators is that the experience of the wireless web is… errr… less than compelling from a design point of view. Pictures, if there are any, are one-bit things that sort of resemble those awful computer-generated T-shirts that used to get sold at malls and country fairs everywhere. Ick! Also, the screen is limited to a few lines of text (generally), with very little space for copy. If you’ve seen the commercials and have dreamed of reading the morning paper on your cellphone, you’ll rethink that position as soon as you see what it actually looks like.

So what’s all the hype about, then? Why is the press going nuts about wireless? Why are investors pouring money into new wireless ventures? Why are big hitters like Yahoo and Oracle tripping over themselves to get new wireless sites up? And how the heck does anyone plan on making money with this thing?

24/7 Europe is the first to offer an answer.

Late last month, 24/7’s European operation announced the development of the first wireless ad server. This system’s got everything that you’d expect from an ad server: ad serving, management, reporting, delivery, monitoring, and control of campaigns. And, most importantly, it works in the ever-changing world of the WAP protocol.

Why Europe? Because Europe’s far ahead of the U.S. in the wireless game so far. They’ve got a higher penetration of mobile phone users, unified standards, and users who are used to using their phones for more than just calling home for the grocery list.

Content providers in Europe are jumping on the bandwagon, too Forrester estimates that approximately 90 percent of all large web players in Europe are building or planning to build wireless interfaces for their content. Now they’ve got a way to pay for it… with a big payoff for 24/7 (they estimate 500 million users in Europe by 2003), if everything pans out.

Want to see what they’re up to? Using one of those wireless simulators mentioned above, check out Twigger, Kauppalehti, Sunpoint or KRAK. Most of these were working when I checked them, but some weren’t that’s the price for surfing the bleeding edge. (Don’t forget to use Phone.com’s simulator or Gelon’s Wapalizer.)

So now we got ads. And there’s plenty of content out there. The experience isn’t exactly compelling yet, but it’s going to get better as new phones come out and the WAP protocol gets standardized. A lot of people are working to get content out there, but most of it is either repurposed corporate database content or repurposed web site content. Not exactly light reading.

Where’s the money going to come from? Here’s my prediction: It’s not going to come from simply reworking content that’s tough enough to read on a hi-rez monitor. Nope, my prediction is that the true wireless revolution is going to be in the delivery of highly targeted micro-applications that take advantage of the fact that the information is constantly updatable on the web.

Imagine if the new Priceline grocery shopping site could send you its approved purchase list via your cellphone just hop in the car and buy! Or imagine that you’re responsible for on-site estimating and could have a calculator in your pocket that updates commodity prices in real time. Pretty cool stuff… and well-suited for the small screen. Tie in the new ad capabilities and you’ve got the beginnings of a revenue model. Imagine that!

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