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Dial 'm' for 'mobile'

If you thought getting yourself and your company ready for e-commerce was tough, just wait until you find out what m-commerce will do to your planning process. The "m" in m-commerce stands for "mobile," and if current trends in Europe and Japan extend to the rest of the world, everything you've seen, done, bought, or planned in terms of e-commerce is only a prelude to the next step of connectivity. Here's why: In the U.S., we tend to have a PC-centric view of the Internet. We log on, surf, e-mail, participate in trading communities, and manage our online value chains from our desktops -- seated as firmly in our chairs as if we were chained to our desks or to our in-plant monitors. Even those of us with laptops have to keep our screens on, our landline or wireless modems plugged in, and our browsers open -- again seated as firmly in our cars or on our hotel beds as if we were handcuffed to them. But the Internet doesn't have to be -- and won't be -- chained to PCs much longer. In Japan, where mobile-phone penetration is close to 50%, a Web-ready cell phone introduced just over a year ago has signed up more than 5 million subscribers. Connected continuously to the Internet, these 5 million users already can send e-mail, get stock quotes, and play online games. Soon they'll be able to use online map guides and even conduct e-commerce by phone. The story is much the same in Europe, where some observers predict that in two years more users will surf via their phones than PCs. Depending on where you live on the continent, you can already trade stocks or download real-time traffic reports to help choose the best path to work (or play) without booting up. Closer to home, any automaker worth its salt already is planning to offer Web access in your next car. Applications will include not only GPS maps and directions but voice recognition software that will read your e-mail to you -- and transcribe your dictated reply. Jacques A. Nasser, president and CEO of Ford Motor Co., has stated publicly that for Ford to be a leading company it must be a leading Internet company. Your car maker soon could be your primary Internet service provider. Can SpeedTrapUpAhead.com be far behind? M-commerce will offer tremendous opportunities for manufacturers to provide additional value to hard-to-reach end customers. Services will include maintenance and repair scheduling completed automatically by Internet-equipped machinery, online purchasing coordinated via cell phone, and technical assistance and training delivered via wireless Palm or Windows CE devices. All of this and more will happen even faster than e-commerce did -- in about six years or less, roughly the time between the invention of the first Web browser and now. Your customers are ready for m-commerce. Now. Are you?

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