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Where Are the Customers?

The answer is on the way via wireless.

E911 emergency services are finally beginning to dribble out as wireless carriers nationwide make it possible for emergency personnel to pinpoint your location via chips that communicate with satellites and/or through triangulation. This is a necessary first step before location-based services and marketing take off.

Right now, Samsung's location-enabled handsets are offered by Sprint and Verizon for about $150, with service in pockets of the country. Nextel will launch a similar handset this October, and AT&T and Cingular will have handsets ready to coincide with their GSM network launches this fall. The FCC had mandated nationwide e911 service long ago, but carriers stalled and deftly shifted costs to consumers. So far, their sales pitches focus on the safety benefits.

But telecom analyst Ovum predicts you'll see location-related m-commerce and advertising later this year. Revenues from location-related commerce could hit $8 million in the United States by 2005. In Europe, 36 percent of direct marketers have tried advertising on cell phones, and location services now serve ads, locate co-workers and even play tag. If predictions pan out, be ready to reach customers at the right time and place.

San Francisco-based Erik P. Nelson is a frequent contributor to Entrepreneur.

This story appears in the July 2002 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »