FRAMINGHAM (03/10/2000) - There's little question that the infant wireless Internet market is poised for growth, in both serving U.S. companies trying to reach their customers and connecting mobile workers to corporate data.
The Wireless 2000 show in New Orleans earlier this month featured a rash of products and services to help companies prepare for a wireless market, but analysts believe the chief obstacle may still be cost for corporate use.
Fidelity Investments Inc. in Boston cobbled together its own wireless system, which now gives 30,000 customers wireless two-way pagers to get information and make trades.
It might have preferred to buy that capability, but no company offered enough of a range of functionality, according to Joseph Ferra, a senior vice president at Fidelity. Ferra said the system's high cost was justified by the enormous promise of wireless.
Self-integration may be less of a problem, following announcements by players like Microsoft Corp. and Sun Microsystems Inc. that crowded the Wireless 2000 show. This year's show had more than twice the number of exhibitors specializing in wireless Internet services or products than were in last year's show.
Fidelity said it is pleased with its own service, although it has signed up only 1 percent of its 3 million accounts. The company is also testing ways to wirelessly connect field salespeople to customer data, however.
At Sabre Inc. in Dallas, a pilot project is under way to let Wireless Application Protocol phones get an alert from the global travel reservation system, in hopes of notifying business travelers when a flight has been canceled.
"We see the concept of getting information anywhere at any time on any device a good business move," said Karen Springs, a Sabre spokeswoman.
Connection costs may also make it more difficult to attract customers, though semiannual surveys of hundreds of cellular providers conducted by the Cellular Telephone Industry Association in Washington show that the average monthly bill dropped from $96.83 per month in 1987 to about $39.43 in 1998.
Some analysts recommend changing the payment system so providers can charge for each packet of data sent wirelessly, rather than charging 10 to 40 cents per minute of use (with fractions of minutes rounded up) and charging cell phone users for incoming as well as outgoing calls as is the common voice cellular practice.
Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon.com Inc. in Seattle - which is making its own push to attract customers who use wireless devices - said in a presentation that he thought U.S. users would find it confusing to base transactions on packets, because they would have trouble measuring how many packets an e-mail or other connection would represent. But Bezos urged U.S. wireless carriers to try flat-based monthly pricing for unlimited usage, a model in limited use in the U.S. today.