In my last article, “What Wireless Offers Global Marketers,” I highlighted some of the challenges and opportunities associated with the globalization of wireless. Wireless shows great promise, but not all worldwide markets have embraced this promise to the same degree. Where are the true believers in the wireless revolution?
Asia is on everyone’s mind, of course. Japan has received its fair share of press coverage as a result of the tremendous success of its i-mode technology. But the European market is rapidly gaining momentum, and experimental wireless marketing applications show promising results. So watch out, Asia and North America! Europe is defining message-delivery models for the years to come and quite possibly could become the e-wireless leader.
In E-Wireless, the U.S. Lags
The numbers speak for themselves: According to Gartner Group, by 2005, over 900 million cellular phones will be in use, a majority of them in Europe and Asia. Some countries, such as Japan and Paraguay, even have more mobile phones than landline telephones, a trend expected to spread. Europe and Asia now account for over 60 percent of cellular phones installed in the world, followed by North America and Latin America.
The United States lags in almost all sectors of the cellular market and in wireless-Internet usage. Because of its market size, business maturity, and willingness to embrace new technologies and remote transactions, the U.S. shows promise, but most of the e-wireless marketing prototypes originate in Asia and Europe. As far as worldwide wireless-Internet usage is concerned, the numbers remain relatively low today compared with traditional cellular-phone usage. However, the number of wireless-Internet users is expected to equal half the number of cellular-phone users by 2005. This critical mass will enable the introduction of a new breed of business models and services throughout Asia and Europe, from mobile commerce (m-commerce) and content sharing and distribution (Web browsing, alerts) to mobile advertising (opt-in promotional campaigns).
As wireless application protocol (WAP) continues to struggle in Europe, NTT DoCoMo expects to offer games, messaging, and e-commerce services to a market of 165 million users in Germany, Belgium, Italy, and the Netherlands via a venture with KPN Mobile and Telecom Italia Mobile.
The European Market Moves to the Fore
The maturity of the European wireless industry is the result of a single wireless standard, a rapidly evolving infrastructure, and innovative companies. Technology companies such as wire-e, a member of IBM’s Helsinki Mobile Partner Innovation Centre, are pushing the limits of what’s possible on wireless, such as text-message broadcast to many phones and virtual phone books accessible by voice activation. These fast-growing companies, followed by the 800-pound gorillas breathing down their necks, are at the heart of European development in services and software for mobile e-business.
These applications are well received in countries that are particularly well wired. Finland, Norway, Sweden, and Italy demonstrate high mobile-cellular penetration (over 50 percent), although they have fewer actual mobile-phone users than Germany, the U.K., and France. Mobile phones and personal digital assistants (PDAs) are expected to become the primary Internet-access devices for most Europeans. And short-messaging-service (SMS) usage will continue to grow; it’s expected to reach over 34 percent of mobile phone users by the end of the year.
Europeans are also in the process of improving their wireless and network infrastructure to third-generation (3G) platforms. According to eMarketer’s wireless study, “3G wireless technology will lead to a substantial increase in the number of web access devices… even in countries where PC penetration remains low.” European countries will benefit significantly from the rapid growth of e-wireless worldwide. According to Jupiter Media Metrix, one-third of the m-commerce revenue will come from Western Europe (mostly from Italy, Germany, the U.K., France, and Spain) by 2005.
flytxt, a technology start-up and founding member of the self-regulation forum Wireless Marketing Association, acts as an outsourcing partner for opt-in wireless marketing services and launches wireless marketing campaigns through its campaign design, testing, reporting, ad-serving, and list-management tools. Although it has yet to launch large-volume campaigns with existing clients (its largest campaign involved an opt-in database of 50,000 customers), the company is able to handle over 10 million messages per day.
flytxt is supporting push technologies and interfaces such as WAP, SMS, email, i-mode, interactive voice response, and instant messaging. When asked what technology the company uses most often and why, Rick Mower, director of marketing consulting for the London-based company, declared, “SMS rules because it’s convenient, cheap, popular, universal, and time relevant.”
He added, “Today the only standard that matters in Europe is SMS.”
And the results are promising. A recent Channel 5 campaign seeking to drive viewing share for specific blockbuster films through a text-messaging wireless contest got nearly 90 percent of SMS subscribers registered within 15 minutes. A campaign for Smash Hits, the leading youth-marketoriented music magazine in England, led to increased sales and massive brand awareness. The objective was to enhance brand value for current readers in conjunction with driving up circulation of its biweekly magazine and allowing mobile users to sign up (by sending a text message, by dialing a number, or through a Web interface).
Another wireless player, Virgin Mobile, rolled out in February its mobile shopping assistant to over 50,000 WAP-phone users, allowing them to do comparison shopping as well as make purchases from their wireless devices using preset preferences (which can set up online from any computer or with the device itself).
Time will tell, of course, but right now Europe is in a position to dominate the promising and exciting e-wireless field.
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