Will M-Commerce Fly on Wings of WLAN?

By Adam Stone

July 25, 2001

Can fixed wireless get m-commerce off the ground? Find out what analysts think might happen as WLANs penetrate the business market at an ever-increasing rate.

Like many ideas with roots embedded deep in mobile wide-area network (WAN) technology, m-commerce has been slow to germinate. But lately, many analysts are predicting that wireless local area networks (WLANs) may prove to be the soil in which mobile commerce finally takes hold.

To that end, some say, businesses need to get comfortable with in-house wireless before they start to ponder killer mobile apps. Thus the adoption of wireless Local area networks may well be an indication of the corporate community's willingness to adopt mobile commerce.

How is that adoption process progressing? In a comprehensive new survey of IT decision-makers, Minnesota connectware firm Digi International found that while cost remains a sticking point, many anticipate that wireless technologies will begin to change the face of American retail in the near future.

Cautious but committed
Digi surveyed 300 mid-to-senior level IT networking and management decision makers earlier this spring and found that 53 percent still see cost as the greatest barrier to adoption of wireless technology in their networks. On the up side, 67 percent said they nonetheless intend to move forward toward enhanced wireless connectivity in industrial and retail environments.

The retail aspect may be especially significant for those on the edges of m-commerce, if one accepts the premise that wireless LAN is the first step toward the business community's acceptance of mobility as a corporate virtue. Along those lines, Digi says, there is cause for optimism.

"I am dealing with a customer right now who is redoing their chain of some 2000 stores around the United States. They will have pods around the store that are wirelessly connected, and each pod has a point-of-information terminal for the customers, a point-of-sale terminal for the clerk and a credit card swiper," said Burk Murray, VP of product management at Digi.

"Today if you want to do a special display, you have to move everything but the cash registers and hope you don't lose the customer on the way to the cash registers. But if you can make the cash registers mobile within the store, think about how much more freedom that gives you to literally lead customers to the money," said Murray.

Ready to spend
The Digi survey shows corporate America warming to this notion. Some 39 percent of respondents said that, despite their concerns about the cost of wireless, they intend to keep spending at a steady clip in this area.

Others have come to the same conclusion. Earlier this spring, Gartner Dataquest published survey results showing that corporate spending on wireless technologies will grow at a rate of more than 21 percent in the immediate future.

The Digi results shows wireless adoption moving most swiftly in certain industry sectors. Of those who expect to go the wireless-LAN route, 17 percent hail from the retail sector, 14 percent come from the industrial automation side, and 4 percent are in the hospitality arena.

There is a down side, in that 21 percent of respondents said they still have security concerns about wireless LANs. If these IT leaders do not feel safe about sending sensitive data over their own in-house networks, it stands to reason that m-commerce aspirants will need to outdo themselves in their efforts to show corporate America that commercial and other transactions can be conducted securely in the mobile environment.



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