Paving the Way for a Wireless Web

NEW ORLEANS (03/01/2000) - The wireless Web means more than the ability to get abbreviated Web sites through your mobile phone. It's a matter of convergence, from service providers that let you both talk and surf, and diverse devices that communicate wirelessly.

For example, there's Compaq Computer Corp.'s new Aero, a Windows CE handheld device that supports the wireless application protocol and is not itself a wireless device but connects wirelessly through a phone. With it comes a "Connectivity Suite" of fax software, a Web browser, a WAP browser, and cable.

The $50 package is scheduled to ship in March.

"There is no question that the world of personal computing is evolving to a world of the Internet access device," says Michael Capellas, Compaq's president and chief executive officer. "Wireless is the next step for the Internet access device."

He unveiled the Aero at a panel of keynotes Tuesday at the Wireless 2000 show here.

Also offering their observations were Amazon founder and chief executive officer Jeff Bezos; Alain Rossman, WAP founder and chairman and CEO of Phone.com; Ed Zander, CEO of Sun Microsystems; and Sol Trujillo, president and CEO of US West.

Capellas expects that people will have a range of devices. "You may have a cell phone for stock transactions and calls, this [Areo] device for broader applications."

Will Wireless Win?

Amazon.com is a big believer in wireless electronic commerce. It offers one-click shopping on both a WAP site and, recently, one accessible by any form of wireless Web device.

"I firmly believe that if you look far enough into the future--five or ten years--Amazon and e-commerce in general will all be wireless," Bezos says.

Our habits are holding us back from exploring new ways of communicating, Bezos says. People are accustomed to using mobile phones one way. But it's the gateway to many new services.

Convergence of telephony and wireless Internet might make the transition easier, panelists suggest.

"In three to five years, it may be hard to distinguish who's an Internet company and who's a telephony company," Rossman says. Wireless operations, Internet access, and voice communications will come in one package, he says.

US West and other wireless telephony carriers offer wireline and wireless Internet access along with voice services, Trujillo notes. Now, US West offers a single phone number and voice mailbox for both types of phones.

"If the consumer has to learn new processes for each new feature, they'll stop using it," Trujillo says.

Paving the Road

Sun is trying to make sure all these Internet devices can talk to each other.

Zander says iPlanet, Sun's wireless infrastructure technology, now supports Palm access to Web information. This means Palm VII users will now be able to wirelessly access corporate information on intranets in the iPlanet format.

Rossman insists that wireless carriers need an open platform. The MyPhone platform builds on the WAP backbone, and carriers that use it can provide services like instant messaging, synchronization with desktop software, unified messaging, and portals.

In a world that is ever busier, "Wireless returns some of our lives to us," Bezos says. But the vendors are keeping busy getting everyone on board.

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