E-biz: Desperately seeking wireless

Online businesses are scrambling to get their Web sites on every pager, PDA and cell phone on the globe.But today's technologies go only so far.

Online businesses are scrambling to get their Web sites on every pager, PDA and cell phone on the globe. But today's technologies go only so far.
By Carmen Nobel, eWEEK

 

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22 June 2000 - They don't know what they want, and they're not sure how it's done, but e-businesses are sure of one thing: They want their Web sites wireless-ready. For help, customers looking to get their Web wares on every pager, PDA and cell phone are turning to Web integrators to translate their sites and contribute to their wireless strategies.

The craze is hitting the integrators with a new set of challenges, not the least of which is telling paying customers that some things just can't be done yet.

"Right now, 'wireless' is a very hot idea with not a lot of knowledge running around with it," said Todd Drake, technology evangelist at Razorfish Inc. , in New York. "So people are a little bit concerned about what they should do."

Other than financial services companies --many of which already offer wireless stock trading --most companies don't have their wireless strategies figured out. To answer the call, some integrators are organizing wireless demonstrations for clients.

Prototypes on tap
Viant Corp. and cell phone giant Ericsson Inc. last week announced a Dallas "showcase innovation center" that will give customers a chance to look at prototype wireless applications in action. The two companies are also collaborating on digital consulting services for wireless initiatives.

Zefer Inc. later this summer will start offering a two-day workshop, in conjunction with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, in Cambridge, and the Center for Innovative Studies in Copenhagen, Denmark, to walk customers through wireless applications. U.S. Interactive Inc. and Razorfish are developing similar educational packages.

In addition to educating customers, the services companies have to educate themselves. Integrators must keep track of every wireless device and wireless network out there --and figure out how to support them --all without compromising user experience.

"It's a different design paradigm for each device," said Ajit Prabhou, chief technology officer of U.S. Interactive, in Murray Hill, N.J.

A tangled wireless Web
Several integrators have partnered with large technology companies so that they can make sense of new software for their customers.

Agency.com Ltd. , Answerthink Consulting Group Inc., Luminant Worldwide Corp., Organic Inc., R/GA Interactive, Rare Medium Group Inc., Razorfish and U.S. Interactive have partnered with IBM (NYSE: IBM), of Armonk, N.Y., to use IBM's transcoding technology. Transcoding takes HTML content and scales it down to run on a device's native markup language.

But a wireless business strategy has to focus on more than basic technology. As Drake points out, "It's more than cramming their portal into a cell phone."

"The concept that I can take any content on the Web and stuff it through a transcoder and have it work on a device that (displays) 20 lines is just crazy," said Richard Barnwell, CTO of Zefer, in Boston. "The only people who advocate that are the people who haven't tried to sit down and use the technology."

Services companies are now hiring engineers to keep up with the hardware, software and networks that make up the wireless Web.

"The world for Web integrators used to be incredibly simple," Barnwell said. "If you knew HTML 3.2, you could pretty much write once, run most places. Now we're moving back toward an era of incredible heterogeneity --PDAs, mobile phones, Net appliances, interactive TV, telematics in cars. ... This lovely homogeneous world is being exploded around us, so people just have to get used to designing for all these devices."

 

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