From a Cottage to a Castle Industry
By Heidi Kriz, Tue Jan 16 00:00:00 GMT 2001

The Next Big Thing has spawned a new niche industry -"the mobile integrator." Selling themselves a little differently than Internet consultancies, they say they can provide everything a business needs for its wireless plan.

While many Internet based companies have come crashing to a calamitous end in this market downturn, entrepreneurial energy has turned to the Next Big Thing: wireless.

Accordingly, the Next Big Thing has spawned a new niche industry - "the mobile integrator." Occupying a space analogous to their Internet consultancy counterparts, m-integrators are in the business of developing winning wireless strategies for companies. They trumpet a one-stop shop, a place where a business can pull together all the strands of the wireless tapestry - protocols, multiple devices, markup languages.

But in these early, inchoate stages of the development of the mobile market, it's important to ask a few questions: Does a company really need to develop a wireless strategy right now? What distinguishes an effective m-integrator from an ineffective one? And are the early m-integrators themselves likely to survive, or take similar blows to the sternum, as with net counterparts like Scient or MarchFirst?

Whither Wireless?

The shiniest moving target for most in the area of wireless is m-commerce, an area projected to boom over the next few years. According to market research firm Strategy Analytics, the global market for m-commerce is expected to reach $200 billion by 2004. And the number of wireless Internet subscribers will grow from 6.6 million in 1999 to 400 million in 2003, says a study by Bank of America Securities.

"The emphasis initially in the wireless market is going to be B-to -B, not the consumer market," says Cherul Vyas, a wireless analyst with research firm IDC.

So, with that in mind, what kinds of companies are best advised to leap from the gate first with their wireless strategies?

"A lot of the companies in financial services will of course want to have a wireless strategy, incorporating things like real-time stock quotes, and the latest market news over wireless devices," says Vyas.

"The early adopters in the U.S. will be -- in some cases already are -- businesses with logistical-type applications for wireless," adds Seamus McAteer, an analyst with Jupiter Communications.

"Businesses with a remote, mobile workforce, like the U.S Postal Service, FedEx, long-haul trucking, public safety organizations -- all will benefit from the integration of wireless," says McAteer.

Others says that area like travel, media and entertainment will benefit most from implementing a wireless plan early on.

But it's not necessarily for everyone right now, says McAteer. And hiring a mobile integrator at this early stage may be a wasted expense, and you may not be getting what you think you paid for.

"Companies that want to adopt wireless right now need to first figure out a business model that anticpates their need in that area," says McAteer.

"Like with the Net, there can be a misplaced sense of urgency about getting presence in that arena first, and figuring out if it's really a good thing second. For example, a company like Sears does not need to go out and figure out a wireless plan right now."

For those companies that should be thinking along those lines, McAteer has some cautionary advice.

"When it comes to figuring out how to intersect mobile technology with business concerns of a company, most of these mobile application service providers or integrators don't have enough of a resume," says McAteer.

"A lot of people are jumping into this space without any relevant experience. Without it, they have nothing to bring to the table," he says.

"Once a company has decided they absolutely need to develop a wireless system for the right reasons, and need an integrator to help them, then they need to check out profile of the companies they're looking at."

Leaping Onto the Bandwagon

As McAteer points out, thousands of inexperienced companies are hoping to cash in on the wireless integration market - estimated to reach $732 million in revenue in the U.S. by 2004, according to IDC.

A number of these companies are hoping to separate themselves from the pack by concentrating exclusively on being m-integrators. These companies claim to have an advantage over their mixed-bag competitors, through purity of vision and an emphasis on grasping the next wave of technology.

One such company is the New York-based Mobilocity.

"We have a jump on some of the bigger consulting firms because m-integration is all we do," says Matthew Friel, marketing manager for Mobolicity.

Mobilocity also has a technology lab - the "mobility lab," where engineers test mobile programs and tinker with their engines.

Another recent, pure mobile integrator - Stellcom, was once a net consultant. In 1999, they saw the writing on the wall, and shifted their focus to mobile.

Bernie Schroeder, Chief Marketing Officer for Stellcom, thinks the company's past - as rough and tumble as most net consultancies - has taught them valuable lessons for the future, that will keep them in the game for a long time.

"We are very, very lean, and operating like a start-up, "says Schroeder. "We are determined to exhibit a level of discipline that a lot of net companies didn't in the beginning - which is why they are not around now."

Stellcom, like Mobilocity, is focusing very intently on staying on top of the technology.

"We have a lot of strong engineering and technological talent, guys who used to be at Qualcomm, ex-defense people, and the like. "

McAteer says these distinction could make the difference between a long-lived mobile integrator and those that just die on the vine.

"If mobile integrators have ANYTHING to offer anyone, it will be a deep understanding of the nature of wireless technology - what's here now, and what's likely to be coming down the pipe - and how to apply it effectively to someone else's business model," he says.