JUPITER ON WIRELESS: PROCEED CAUTIOUSLY

Byline: Valerie Seckler

NEW YORK — Internet consultant Jupiter Media Metrix cautioned Tuesday that online businesses must scale back any elaborate plans that they might be laying for mobile ‘Net applications in the U.S. — even as it made bullish growth projections for users of handheld computers across the country, between now and 2005.
“While the number of people in the U.S. logging on from mobile devices is about to enter a period of rapid growth, the wireless industry must not underestimate the complexity of delivering Web services in a highly competitive and fractured environment,” said Seamus McAteer, a senior analyst at the Jupiter Research unit of Jupiter Media Metrix. “This means industry must hold back on ambitious plans to deliver mobile multimedia, and instead focus on delivering simple yet practical interactive services.”
The latter include games, short messaging and location-specific directories — those designed to offer information to be used in real-time, based on a cybersurfer’s proximity to a store, club, restaurant, or other location. “All of [these services] are viable across multiple networks and narrow bandwidths,” McAteer noted.
These cautions came amid estimates from Jupiter Media Metrix that the population of wireless Web users in the U.S. will balloon to 96 million people in 2005, up from just 4.1 million in 2000. The reason for the go-slow edict: several hurdles currently facing mobile interactive services, such as bandwidth limitations, the existence of multiple-service platforms rather than a universal technology and the gaggle of competing service providers.
Japan and Europe are continuing to lead the wireless Web market, with the U.S. a distant third, in part, because the vast majority of ‘Net users in the States go online via desktop personal computers, unlike the rest of the world, where mobile devices provide the dominant connection.
Among other key findings of the Jupiter Media Metrix research released Tuesday:
Of the 96 million U.S. users of the mobile Web anticipated in 2005, 74.9 million will be using voice-centric handsets; 7.3 million will be using data-centric handsets; 4.4 million will be using online personal digital assistants; and 9.4 million will be using off-line PDAs.
The U.S. mobile market will be characterized by narrowband connections for the near-term, which will support economic delivery of various interactive applications.
Broadband mobile hookups are expected to facilitate ‘Net platforms in Japan within two years, but e-businesses aiming at applications in Europe and Japan are looking at a horizon of four to six years.
The widespread rollout of location-based ‘Net services in the U.S. is at least two years away, because of the time required to meet Federal Communications Commission mandates to provide precise positioning for 911 emergency callers. However, European carriers will begin to promote this capability within the next year, using less location-specific data.
Most broadly, Jupiter Media Metrix found that the wireless Web in the U.S. is unfolding as a battleground in which regional mobile services will struggle to survive against national powers, a group the Internet consultant expects to shrink to three giant players within the next five years.