There is, however, a big obstacle in the path to wireless riches. "Cost remains a problem," says Wilson. "Pricing is very steep," agrees Rifredi. A handful of providers own the market: Sprint PCS, AT&T Wireless and GTE. Worse, simply navigating from site to site on the wireless Web is slow, due to a tiny keypad that imposes complexities and the fact that the wireless Web itself just seems slow. Add it up and it's easy to run into big bills-although nobody expects that to last. New providers are expected to enter the market (particularly so-called "Baby Bells"), and there's widespread expectation in the industry that flat-rate access is on its way.
Another trend that will translate into lower costs: More companies will be giving away wireless Net devices to their customers, predicts Ken Dulaney, a vice president and research area director at GartnerGroup. Devices will be customized to make things easy-say, stock trading at a particular brokerage, or banking at a particular bank. In that way, the devices represent a tangible link with customers, and the wireless Net becomes a new channel for contact. For customers, it's a cost savings that automatically makes wireless cheaper.
A second problem area: "Marketing in this space is getting ahead of reality, and that could turn off consumers," says Rifredi. The wireless Web is home to lots of "vaporware"-the tech industry put-down for software and services that are announced, usually with much fanfare, but never make it to market. Right now, in fact, offerings available to Web-ready phone users are few-even most Web sites won't display properly because they aren't in WML (wireless markup language). But more will become compliant, says Rensin: "There are challenges in creating sites that look good on a phone, but you're already seeing more and more."
That's why the future for the wireless Web looks ever brighter. "There were a lot of years when that wasn't so," says Rensin. "I tell people it's taken wireless 10 years to become an overnight success. But in the past year, it has gotten real enough that ordinary businesses can use it to do things better."
"Within five years," adds Rensin, "this space will be utterly different from what it has been. Totally different."
- Datacomm Research Co., (314) 514-9750, www.datacommresearch.com
- Frost & Sullivan, (210)247-2403, www.frost.com
- Kelsey Group, (609) 921-7200, www.kelseygroup.com
- LightSurf Inc., email@example.com, www.lightsurf.com
- Nettech Systems Inc., (609) 734-0300, www.nettechrf.com
- Pixo Inc., (408)996-8224, www.pixo.com
- Proteus, (202) 452-6800, www.proteus.com
- Summit Strategies, firstname.lastname@example.org, www.summitstrat.com