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WIRELESS WORLD: Who owns customers?

WIRELESS WORLD: Who owns customers?

Wireless operators do not want to become - as it is so inelegantly called - "a dumb pipe". As long as they still control the gateways needed to gain access to service suppliers such as your local bank, they are still very much a force to be reckoned with.

Financial institutions would like to see a world in which carriers are used to supply only TCP/IP (Transmission Control Protocol/Internet Protocol). This is one reason why the Royal Bank of Canada uses only the Palm OS, which has an XML (Extensible Markup Language) parser and therefore doesn't require a gateway.

"We want to make sure that our customers are dealing with us, not with us through carrier X. [We want] no gateways at all," said Jim Connor, manager of e-services technologies at the Royal Bank of Canada in Toronto.

The carriers are reluctant to give up those gateways, which give them access to a lucrative market as they require subscribers to sign up.

Because WAP (wireless application protocol) requires an operator-run gateway, I believe you can expect to see tremendous support for WAP, both overt and covert, from network operators. And you can be sure that the WAP Forum will never fall on its own sword by making itself disappear.

In theory WAP 2.0, released earlier this month, includes enhancements, such as support for xHTML, that suggest gateways will vanish in the future. As companies "Webify" their applications on the network for example, they will also use xHTML. When that happens, content will be sent back and forth seamlessly, without the need to translate between the two platforms. Then wireless devices will become a full member of any network (dumb pipe).

It is true that legacy sites require gateways. There are probably 20 million to 30 million HDML (Handheld Device Markup Language) phones still in use. And according to outgoing WAP Forum CEO Scott Goldman, gateways will always be useful. "Gateways are going to serve a purpose for a long time to come," he said. "Their functions are different. They may be used to store and forward messages or cache for various sites."

So unless something changes, telco providers and financial institutions will struggle for end-user discretionary funds. All will offer similar services such as aggregation, which allows end users to view all of their online financial information, or one-stop billing.

I wonder, did anybody ever consider what the consumers actually want. I, for one, am not for sale.

As always, I appreciate your thoughts. Write to ephraim_schwartz@

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