Thinking Outside the (Wireless) Box

Personal digital assistants (PDAs), pagers, and cell phones. That’s what we mean when we discuss wireless advertising, or m-commerce, right? At least, that is the impression I get reading the ClickZ archives on Wireless Advertising and M-Commerce, Wireless Marketing, and Wireless Applications. But stop for a moment, and, to further abuse a much-abused business cliché, think outside of the wireless box. Why does it have to be a PDA, pager, or cell phone?

The “m” in m-commerce stands for “mobile,” n’est-ce pas? So what constitutes mobile commerce? If I am in my RV, parked in a campground in Nauvoo, IL, and I hook my laptop up to my DISH Network satellite TV, which also incorporates the StarBand satellite modem, and from Amazon.com I purchase a book that’s about this former Mormon settlement and will be mailed to my home address in Virginia — have I just engaged in m-commerce?

A related question: How wireless does wireless have to be to be considered wireless? There is a wire between my laptop and my satellite modem, but that is all. Is that still wireless? RV owners have great demographics; they are mobile; and they spend lots of money on the road. More and more campgrounds now offer Internet connections.

How about another scenario: I am flying back from Brussels, Belgium, to Washington Dulles International Airport. I plug my laptop into the seat phone and check my email. Sure enough, I’ve got spam! Has mobile advertising just occurred? Unlike the stationary campground example, I am mobile in the jet. (For that matter, if I bought some perfume for my wife from the duty-free cart on the jet, isn’t that also m-commerce?)

Chuck the PDA; let’s think “PTA” (no, not that… think “Personal Travel Assistant”). I am in my rental car with the OnStar system or similar device that combines wireless with sophisticated global positioning system (GPS) technologies. As the TV ads imply, I can call a tow truck if I break down, and I can or ask for directions if I get lost.

But there is so much more potential here for m-commerce than for breakdowns or getting lost. My onboard system could monitor my gasoline usage and notify me when it is low. Using an agent, it could contact gas stations along the interstate and negotiate a price I am willing to pay.

Combine this with smart card technologies, and the possibilities expand even further. The agent could negotiate a price and send a voucher to my smart card; when I arrive, I pay for the gas with the smart card.

While traveling, I get tired and decide to spend the night in a hotel or motel. My onboard navigation system agent contacts hotels, orders a non-smoker’s room with a king-sized bed, pays for the room, gives me the room number, and sends a key code to my smart card so that I can unlock the door when I arrive. I don’t even have to check in at the desk.

I leave the next morning, late because I overslept, and need a parking space in the city for my presentation at 11:00. No problem. My onboard system contacts several parking garages near my destination and bids on a parking spot. Since I am late and must be there, I am willing to pay a premium to ensure that I have a place to park. Payment is transferred, I drive right into the parking garage, and I am on my way. I am on my own for dinner, so before I leave the car I instruct my PTA agent to make reservations at a nearby restaurant, within the limits of my travel per diem, for 8:00 p.m. that evening. A reservation is secured, and I am set.

Now, create a PTA that combines GPS, wireless, and smart card technologies that I can take with me onto a bus, train, jet, metro, cab, RV, or whatever. Since I am traveling, I will have travel-related needs, as in the example above. And I haven’t even begun to discuss business-to-business (B2B) possibilities.

Boys and girls, I think we have been barking up the wrong tree with our fixation on PDAs, pagers, and cell phones. We need to think beyond advertising in six lines or less, or wireless application protocol (WAP), or whatever. With nascent satellite, GPS, smart card, and wireless technologies, we really need to start thinking outside of the m-commerce box. When we do that, we will make some true headway.

(I gratefully acknowledge David Bernstein, a computer science colleague of mine, who stimulated my thinking in this area with his numerous examples and ideas about m-commerce using an onboard system).

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