The Internet Goes Wireless, IDC Says

Taken From IDC Research Reports

More than seven million U.S. users logged on with wireless devices in 1999 as a slew of wireless carriers introduced wireless data services. And the onslaught is expected to continue in 2000. Meanwhile, the number of wireless device users with access to inbound and outbound information services and Internet messaging will increase a whopping 728 percent from 7.4 million in 1999 to 61.5 million by 2003 in the United States alone, according to recent research done by IDC (Framingham, Mass.).

"It is easy to envision a time in the next few years when the majority of Internet access could be through wireless and not wired means," says Iain Gillott, VP, Worldwide Consumer and Small Business Telecommunications research at IDC. "The irony is that many users will not know they are using the Internet over their wireless devices—they will simply see, as some do today, updates from CNN, CNBC, Reuters and so on and take that fact for granted. The underlying infrastructure that makes this possible is invisible to them."

Despite the expected increase in the number of users accessing the Internet with wireless devices, IDC believes users' lack of understanding is thwarting interest. "Some cellular/PCS users believe access to the Internet means browsing and displaying full Web pages on the handset display," Gillott said. "This incorrect perception will have to change, and will change, as more services are offered and the awareness of actual wireless Internet capabilities increases."

According to IDC, two major occurrences pushed the wireless Internet market forward in 1999: Microsoft's involvement with the Wireless Application Protocol (WAP) Forum and the introduction of mobile-specific portals. WAP is a specification that provides easy, secure access to relevant Internet/intranet information and other services through mobile devices in a cost-effective manner.

Currently, the portals' involvement with wireless carriers is a market differentiator. However, because the contracts are nonexclusive, carriers will soon have to find another way to differentiate themselves. IDC believes the next differentiator will be location information and its use. "The power of receiving the location of and directions from the subscriber's location to the nearest Italian restaurant that takes a specified credit card cannot be overlooked," Gillott says.