Hong Kong probably will be the first launch pad for an emerging WAP (Wireless Application Protocol) technology that could open up mobile commerce to major consumer purchases such as airline tickets, executives of smart card vendor Schlumberger Ltd. said at a press seminar Wednesday.
According to Schlumberger, another technology, allowing users of conventional GSM (Global System for Mobile Communications) phones to access WAP content, will become available in Taiwan, Singapore and Malaysia in November.
If mobile operators in the territory can finish development of a secure electronic certificate for mobile commerce later this year as planned, they will be able to start selling the new GSM handsets by year's end. [See "HK Carriers Link to Ensure Mobile E-Commerce," April 26.] The handsets will work with SIM (subscriber identity module) cards using the WAP Forum's WIM (Wireless Identity Module) software, said Claus Hansen, a marketing director for Schlumberger in Hong Kong, in a presentation Wednesday.
[See "Mobile Phone Makers Team on Mobile E-Commerce," April 11.]Those updated SIM cards, called SWIM cards, will add client and server authentication capability to mobile networks, according to Eric Tholome, Mobile Communications Product Line Manager for Schlumberger, in Paris.
Nokia Corp. and other handset vendors are working with Schlumberger on development of the handsets.
Furthermore, according to Hansen, Hong Kong's mobile operators are leading the world by collectively adopting a mobile certificate standard.
With authentication, customers can be assured that they are authorizing payment to legitimate companies and the vendors can in turn be certain they are dealing with qualified customers. Consumers will provide a digital signature, and the mobile commerce digital certificate will authenticate the customer and vendor to each other, Tholome said.
WIM is part of the WAP Forum's WAP, Version 1.2 specification, available on handsets coming by the end of the year, Hansen said. The security developments will be major advances for WAP, which has run into some customer criticism over its slow access speed and small, black-and-white interface, Hansen said.
"Without (mobile commerce), I doubt WAP is going to be successful," Hansen said.
He added, "WAP is delivering. The problem is that expectations were too high to start with."The higher speed GPRS (General Packet Radio Service) network technology, which is now being introduced and will expand rapidly next year, also will help to drive acceptance of WAP, Hansen said. WIM can also be used in future bank cards or credit cards that can be slid into dual-SIM-slot handsets now under development, he added.
Hong Kong is one of the hottest markets for mobile phones and WAP, which can be both a blessing and a curse for introducing new advances in the territory, Hansen said.
The Simera Navigate SIM card that adds WAP access capability to conventional phones will not be introduced in Hong Kong until next year, Hansen pointed out.
"Hong Kong has been the place where you have the most subscribers for the early form of WAP, so you have a lot more disappointed subscribers," Hansen said.
Schlumberger, in New York, can be reached at +1-212-350-9400 or at http://www.schlumberger.com.