The rapid global diffusion of mobile telephones in the last two decades of the 20th century laid the foundation for a new type of technology-aided commerce. Going beyond the computer-mediated electronic commerce (e-commerce)  of the 1990s, this new type of mobile commerce (m-commerce) was characterized by novel, location-based services delivered by a variety of handheld terminals (Dholakia & Dholakia, 2003). By 2000, Japan's NTT DoCoMo had already established a huge network of m-commerce service providers and users that relied on that company's i-mode platform (Bradley & Sandoval, 2002).
Just as networked computers and browser-accessible content provided the preconditions for the takeoff of e-commerce, mobile telephones that are data-ready and connected to digital communications networks provide the preconditions for m-commerce. In recent years, other handheld mobile devices, such as Personal Digital Assistants (PDAs) and enhanced alphanumeric communicators (such as Blackberry devices), supplemented mobile telephones. An increasingly diverse array of such mobile devices is anticipated from the research laboratories of telecommunications, computer, and electronic firms.
Drawing on comparative macrodata from about 30 selected countries, in this chapter, the heterogeneity of factors that influence cross-national differences in the adoption of mobile communication infrastructure and m-commerce applications is explored. It will be seen, in particular, that the distinction between developed, newly developed, and developing countries does not translate into a corresponding continuum of national leaders and laggards in mobile technology adoption. Instead, comparative analysis reveals interesting features of the emergent global m-commerce landscape:
Not all global leaders in land-based telecommunications or Internet access are the global leaders in mobile connectivity.
In terms of m-commerce applications, multiple dominant designs are likely to coexist and compete for an extended period of time. This is different from most IT fields, where dominant designs converged rapidly to one or two standards.
Sources and reasons for national leadership in the evolution of m-commerce applications are likely to be significantly different from the national leadership patterns in Internet, land-line telecommunications, and computers.
Provided in this chapter is a framework, derived from macrodata and selected case studies, for understanding cross-national and cross-regional variations in the evolution of m-commerce applications. In the remainder of the chapter: (a) background on the rapid diffusion of mobile technology will be provided; (b) the global diffusion pattern of mobile phones and m-commerce technology will be examined; (c) a variety of economic, social, and technological factors impacting the diffusion patterns of mobile technology and m-commerce will be identified; and (d) a simple typology for tracking future developments in m-commerce will be developed.
To simplify usage, the term "e-commerce" is employed for electronic commerce transactions carried out via fixed, wired terminals, and the term "m-commerce" is for electronic commerce transactions carried out via mobile, wireless terminals. In the larger sense, both are variations of electronic transactions, but using the prefix "e" for fixed/wired and "m" for mobile makes it easier to contrast these two types of electronic transactions.