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What use is the mobile Internet to you?

Last month I forecast what is likely to happen in the digital marketing sector. Much of it is related to the mobility of the modern consumer.

As little as ten years ago, mobile phones were only voice communication devices. We then found the extra bandwidth for text messaging (SMS). Six years ago, BT launched a start-up brand called Genie that took the mobile Internet or WAP (Wireless Application Protocol) to the youth markets. Their customers had access to their email accounts, as well as large numbers of WAP pages with sports, entertainment and games available to them.

Popularity

At the beginning, WAP was very basic - in the same way that the Internet started. Text only links and slow connection speeds made the medium cumbersome, but its popularity grew and Vodafone launched a more pleasant interface with buttons and images.

In 2004, O2 announced they were launching the popular Japanese platform called i-Mode (very similar to WAP). One of the features of i-Mode is a dedicated button on the handset that takes the users straight to the homepage. Many other services now use a similar method - for example 3's Planet3.

Another phenomenon appeared at this time - that of the mobile office handset. Linking laptops and PDA's (handheld or palmtop computers) to mobile phones had been around for some time, but all of a sudden, wireless data cards and PDA's arrived in the market. The infamous Blackberry set many business people free of their desks (or makes them accessible anytime, anywhere).

The Mobile Internet

Almost all handsets now let users to access vast numbers of 'Internet' pages to access information (for example to cheat at pub quizzes), entertain themselves (gaming) and news. Some modern phones have 'normal' Internet browsers, allowing access to many more websites.

But the mobile Internet is no longer limited to mobile phones. WiFi (or Wireless Internet) hotspots are now providing people with alternative means of accessing their information. The Blackberry™ provides a link into corporate e-mail servers, allowing the owner to respond immediately to incoming messages. Most PDA's provide similar connectivity.

WAP & i-Mode

Businesses outside the consumer youth market have been slow to take up the mobile Internet, probably through a lack of understanding rather than wilfully ignoring it. It is true that many "older" mobile device users are unsure of the mobile Internet (WAP & i-Mode), and therefore do not use it, but with PDA's and wireless laptops, the mobile Internet is gathering pace.

Many kids now leaving school have grown up with mobile phones, and are expert texters. These will be the business people of the very near future.

In terms of business – consider building your website in such a way that it resizes well for different screen resolutions, or even better – that it identifies the browser type and resolution, and selects the most appropriate templates?

Business Uses

As with "normal" Internet websites, WAP sites must be interesting and encourage people to return to them. When planning this, why not understand where your customers could access your services and what they want to see?

You could also use your WAP site to collect data – get your customers to register on their mobile (if you can't get them to do it on a PC), and provide them with a voucher to discount their next purchase – This has the benefit of capturing people who stand outside your shop or premises and may persuade them into a purchase.

Did you know that you can call up train timetables on WAP? Find out at mobile.nationalrail.co.uk.

You can also use WAP for tracking documents or packages, providing driving or routes that people can follow (assuming that your customers don't have GPS).

The future

One mobile phone company claims that they and their colour is the future! We have had the great auction and deflation of the 3G (3rd Generation) bubble, with all major companies now trading in this marketplace. The scientists have already moved to 7th or 8th Generation in their laboratories, but the market is very slow at taking up the 3rd!

In a few months time, most hardware companies will introduce WiFi handsets preloaded with your VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol or the free Internet calls service) account details. When you are in a WiFi hotspot that you have access to (accounts with BT Openzone or T Mobile Hotspots to name but two), you can make "free" calls over the Internet, or very cheap calls to land- or mobile lines.

Businesses are also offering customers WiFi access as a service for them to connect their laptops to download emails or collect important files from their business servers. A nice value-add feature that makes you want to have a coffee at Café Nero or Starbucks!

About the author

Thom Poole is a Chartered Marketer with the Chartered Institute of Marketing, and a member of the Marketing Society. A marketer with over 16 years experience in online marketing and web strategy, Thom is strategic e-marketing consultant for Jack Marketing Solutions, working with SMEs. He also teaches people web design from beginners to professionals, as well as CRM, eCommerce, etc., and is a lecturer for Birkbeck College – University of London. A regular speaker on the CRM and e-marketing event circuit, Thom has also written a book on ethical e-marketing, called 'Play It By Trust'. The book is available at the publishers as a hardback or download.

For more details visit www.jack-marketing.com

Article first published - Daily Telegraph Business Club (September 2006)

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