The Bloor Perspective: WAP and the next Net revolution; Microsoft's mounting legal worries; and Bluetooth's new-found bite

Robin Bloor and his team of analysts again look at the stories behind the stories which have dominated the news of late. This week: forget Vodafone and Mannesmann - concentrate on WAP; what Microsoft has in common with the tobacco industry; and Bluetooth's improving prospects
Written by Bloor Research, Contributor on

Robin Bloor and his team of analysts again look at the stories behind the stories which have dominated the news of late. This week: forget Vodafone and Mannesmann - concentrate on WAP; what Microsoft has in common with the tobacco industry; and Bluetooth's improving prospects

The takeover battle between Vodafone Airtouch and Mannesmann, which owns Orange, masks the real conflict that is about to take place in mobile phone market (see http://www.silicon.com/a34173 and http://www.silicon.com/a34248 ). The mobile phone market is worth contemplating for several reasons. First and foremost, it is probably bigger than the Internet - or is at least in the process of overtaking it. In the UK it has always been ahead of the Internet. At the beginning of 1999 there were an estimated ten million mobile phone users in the UK, and even the highest Internet estimates only suggested eight million. In the first nine months of 1999, the UK mobile phone population was estimated to have grown by a further seven million. In mobile-phone crazy areas such as Scandinavia, the penetration percentages are approaching those of television. None of this would mean too much were it not for WAP (Wireless Application Protocol). Industry estimates suggest that people swap their mobile phones for new models every couple of years. Right now, WAP-enabled phones are about to flood the market. They are being introduced first at premium prices (around £500 per unit) but those are expected to tumble very quickly and when they do, the mobile phone swap-out rate will see hundreds of millions of WAP-enabled devices users within a few years. Virgin Mobile was the first to launch, but Mannesmann's Orange.Net is hot on its heels, launching its offering last week The WAP capabilities that Orange is providing include a diary (with alerts), email, news stories, access to the Thomson directory, and access to AA Roadwatch. The significance of all this should not be underestimated. Consider the following: this is the first Internet access device that truly ties the user in to the service providers. The mobile phone is the only access device that can be used from anywhere. It is set to become the dominant access device. The mobile phone itself integrates sound with Web site access. Here comes the next revolution, rudely and shamelessly interrupting and amplifying the first revolution (the Internet revolution) before it is properly underway. ** There's no smoke without fire ** Microsoft's brewing legal storm has remarkable similarities to that already experienced by the tobacco industry (see http://www.silicon.com/a34206 ). Class action suits have already been filed in four US states with every chance more will follow. The probability is that the different cases will be consolidated, suggesting another legal battle which will cause more than a few headaches to the software giant. There are two main differences with the tobacco industry, neither of them good news for Microsoft. The first is that the defendant is a single company rather than an industry - yes, individual companies were targeted but this still led to a dilution of the overall thrust. The second is that there are no vested interests relative to the tobacco debate, which pitched smokers against non-smokers as much as individuals against companies. In the Microsoft case, the situation is much simpler - individuals and organisations want some of their money back as they feel that they have been overcharged. This isn't about proving risks to health or substantiating research, this question has a yes/no answer which many feel has already been addressed by Judge Jackson. Clearly a huge amount hinges on the conclusions of the anti-trust case next year. Should the parties decide to settle, then a final answer may not be reached, meaning that the class action suits will have to start virtually from scratch. In the meantime, investors are hanging on as long as possible to what is clearly a good earner, monopoly or not. It could be argued that settlement acts only in the interests of Microsoft as it does not resolve the fundamental issues of the case. When the Judge reaches a final ruling Microsoft will probably take the case to the Supreme Court. In the meantime, both company and investors can continue to milk the cash cow. It is unlikely that other legal disputes will be able to reach any conclusion prior to the closure of the anti-trust case. US lawyers are stunningly persistent when they smell money and Microsoft cannot shake off the powerful scent. Legal organisations will try every possible approach to getting their clients' hands on the cash: it may take several years but sooner or later, as with the tobacco suits, a case will succeed. Once the breach is opened, investors will hang on as long as they dare before they take the money and run. ** The future's bright, the future's... blue ** Bluetooth is not going to change the local networking landscape... yet. That was the conclusion of major vendors of the technology, blaming software and interoperability issues for delays in bringing products to market. Despite this initial disappointment, companies are still moving full steam ahead with Bluetooth. Bluetooth is a short-range wireless standard designed for communications between electronic equipment. The standard has been agreed by the majority of hardware manufacturers and software vendors. It therefore looks set to exist, which is a major hurdle cleared for any technology. A number of applications have already been mooted for Bluetooth, including its use as a replacement for wires or infrared connections between devices such as mobile phones and PDAs. It has quickly become clear that the potential for this technology goes way beyond this limited view. Home networking has now been recognised as a valid target for Bluetooth, not for fridges and toasters, but for hi-fi units, televisions and other domestic electronic devices. The second area which is likely to receive attention is the small office/home office (SOHO) environment, as Bluetooth demonstrates its capability as a replacement for local networking and the general proliferation of wires in these environments. There is one significant element of this development which makes Bluetooth an inevitability: it is targeted at equipment manufacturers and hence is likely to be included on any electronic platform that is suited for the purpose. Like the infrared ports that the technology is designed to replace, Bluetooth will be an integral part of the device. The difference is that it will actually be used. Software may be holding up the development of Bluetooth devices, and it is software which will slow down its acceptance. Higher-level mechanisms such as Jini or Universal Plug and Play are still necessary to enable devices to identify each other and to open secure communications channels. Without these, Bluetooth will be prevented from achieving its full potential. For more analysis, see http://www.it-director.com
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