The m-commerce industry is fast growing, with estimates of reaching a user base of 1.3 billion people around the world by 2004 (Morrison, 2001), contributing to an overall market in excess of US$22 billion (Canvas, 2001). Industry players, ranging from network carriers to content providers, hope to capture part of this revenue. However, early results were not up to the hyped expectations due to a combination of reasons ranging from technology limitations or limited business applications. Concerns center on the issues of cost, privacy, reliability, download speed, usability, security, and content availability. For m-commerce to reach its potential, these concerns will have to be effectively addressed, and collaboration among all value network members will be essential. It should also be noted that health concerns, although not linked to any particular application, pose another barrier for adoption of wireless technology. On this issue, the m-commerce industry will need to clearly communicate any findings, so as to reduce fears of health hazards consequent of mobile device usage.
For the most part, the drawbacks found in using mobile devices for Web-based functions will be resolved in the near future, as advancements are being made simultaneously in wireless networks, wireless protocols, mobile devices, and supporting technologies.
The traditional categories for wireless devices include wireless phones, wireless PDAs, and wireless laptops. The latest innovation in wireless devices involved the introduction of smart phones, which represent wireless devices that enabled users with a new set of capabilities, derived from more than one of the traditional wireless devices. This convergence trend is expected to continue in the foreseeable future to support consumer demands for mobile devices that can provide a wider range of capabilities (Keyte, 2001).
With respect to wireless communication protocols (e.g., WAP, i-mode), it is unlikely that any one will prevail over the others on a global basis. The more likely scenario will be that wireless devices will evolve to support all protocols seamlessly. This is one of the goals set to be achieved with the implementation of the 3G wireless networks (hence, the name UMTS). Wireless networks will continue to be implemented that offer higher bandwidths and, consequently, can support rich content, such as streaming video, at faster download times than those available today. Japan is leading the rest of the world, having implemented their 3G network in the fourth quarter of 2001 and having already announced that 4G is expected to arrive in 2006 (NTT, 2002). Although 4G will provide higher bandwidth than 3G, it is the latter that will help address the main problem of ubiquity. Ubiquity is a critical success factor for m-commerce, and with the whole world eventually migrating to 3G, there will be no more barriers to prevent anytime, anywhere m-commerce.
One area that deserves particular attention is related to content management. Issues in this area arise from the lack of compatibility and the absence of automated translation mechanisms between the wired and wireless Web environments. It may be the case that before long, language interpreters or translators will convert a single Web site to any standard, taking into consideration the form factor involved. For now, these applications are still emerging, and organizations are required to go through the nuisance of running two separate sites (i.e., one for the wired Web and one for the wireless Web) and managing the associated complexities. Consequently, additional resources are required that are estimated at 30% above the cost of implementing an HTML Web site (Little, 2001).
Once technology-related problems are addressed effectively, the emphasis for market players will shift to developing content and implementing effective m-commerce business models. Understanding the needs and wants of the m-consumer, as outlined in this chapter, can facilitate creation of a loyal m-consumer base. Businesses targeting m-consumers need to understand that a Web-enabled mobile device does not necessarily guarantee that a user will take advantage of this capability. Currently, the success story for m-commerce comes from the Far East, where Japan successfully captured 30 million users in less than 3 years on its i-mode platform. This success is largely due to the content that was made available early on, an element that was not present for WAP users in other regions (Levy, 2001). Development language and protocol limitations were partly responsible for this situation, but with WAP 2.0 addressing most of these concerns, content providers need to take charge and give users something to go mobile for, other than communicating. "Content is king" may be an old clich , but it holds true for this phase of m-commerce, where users do not see a limitation of devices but rather one of content, and are, therefore, reluctant to make the transition to the wireless Web.
Asian countries, in particular, Japan, are expected to continue to dominate the m-commerce market in the near future, although the rest of the world, in particular, Western Europe, is closing the gap. It will be interesting to see how underdeveloped countries will respond to the m-commerce opportunity, which can act as a "leapfrog" technology. M-commerce can reduce the digital divide between developed and underdeveloped countries by allowing underdeveloped countries to implement wireless networks that will serve as their main communications infrastructure.
Future research in the area will be focused on issues related to devising m-commerce business models that can take full advantage of the fast unfolding technological improvements in the areas of wireless networks, devices, and protocols. Developers of such models will have to pay close attention to satisfying the needs of m-consumers while minimizing their concerns. Another area of key importance for future research in this field is the usability of mobile devices and m-commerce Web sites, because it highly impacts the rate of adoption of m-commerce activities by m-consumers.