Carriers control the wireless Web that hits your two-inch telephone display, and they're still hammering out the network (and billing) issues. Just as you pay for wireless voice service, you may pay extra for wireless data service and Internet access from your Web-enabled phone.
Also, having a Web-enabled phone doesn't mean you can surf to any Web site. Typically, you get a tiny menu that offers one-click access to selected sites--mainly those that pay top dollar for the best positions offered by the service carrier. These content providers create versions of their sites suited to a Web phone's small screen.
A Moving Market
At least the carriers have plenty of incentive to promote the wireless Web, because they see many potential customers. Some 600 million mobile phones will be in use by 2001, say IDC market researchers. Many of those phones will be able to access Web content.
At the WirelessAgenda 2000 conference held in mid-May in the US, this week, wireless data experts, carriers, and technology companies touted many upcoming applications for the wireless Web. Some of these are available for pagers and handheld personal digital assistants as well as Web-enabled phones and phones that follow the Wireless Application Protocol, or WAP, specification.
The mobility of these devices is key to some of the most promising applications. Programs tailored to the needs of travelers, offering location-specific information, are drawing interest. In fact, location-specific services are likely to promote wireless devices among business travelers, says Barney Dewey, a partner at the Andrew Seybold Group. (wirelessroadmap.com) Information such as movie and restaurant listings, driving directions, and directory information draw on your phone's Global Positioning System function. Your phone tells the network where you are, so you receive only the information appropriate to that location.
Yahoo Everywhere and other wireless portals already offer such listings. Mapquest provides driving directions by Web phone, and Vicinity (www.vicinity.com) searches out nearby stores. For air travel, Travelocity (www.travelocity.com) and Expedia (www.expedia.com) alert you to flight delays as you rush to the airport.