When it rains in Paris…

WAP is back. For many this comes as a surprise. The launch of WAP (“Wireless Access Protocol”) in 2000 is still associated with one of the biggest flops in the still young history of the mobile telephony. This early-born child has now been given a new name: the Mobile Internet. It has begun a silent, but remarkable return.At the launch of WAP, the expectations were very high: via the WAP protocol, internet content would also become available for every mobile user. During this hype many companies have made significant investments in their WAP infrastructure. Only to notice afterwards that nobody visited. For years, the small bandwidth of mobile networks and the limited possibilities of handsets formed a major obstacle for the breakthrough of the Mobile Internet.

But the tables are turning. The Mobile Internet is becoming one of the most important drivers of growth for the coming years. The market is being flooded with multimedia mobile phones and PDA’s with extensive and easy-to-use navigation possibilities. In parallel the coming of mobile broadband technology (Edge, UMTS, …) is leading to acceptable speed. The introduction of fixed price packages will largely reduce the costs for the consumer.

The impact of this is best visible with our southern neighbours. In a few years time, France has established a flourishing industry around the Mobile Internet. A few hundred companies are active today on several domains: information offering (news, weather forecast,…), gsm personalisation (logo & ringtones), chat & dating services, mobile marketing services and m-commerce. It has been estimated that this year a revenue of more than 150 million EUR will be generated. This is at least remarkable. France is not on top of the ranking lists when it comes to internet penetration, domain name registration or other related services.

The French success story has multiple explanations. First of all there is the speed-up penetration of multimedia handsets. The French mobile phone parc is completely renewed approximately every 2 to 3 years. The French operators are allowed to subsidize handsets, to offer the consumer a free mobile phone after purchasing a new GSM subscription or prepaid card. Secondly, the French market has for years build up experience with paid interactive services during the Minitel era. Several content providers have deliberately avoided the ‘free’ internet and are now taking their chances on the paying mobile internet. Last but not least, the French operators have significantly invested in Gallery: this is a shared platform on which content providers can advertise their services. So far almost 1000 services are available on Gallery, en the number is rising fast every month. This platform offers an easy and uniform access, regardless of the operator.

When it rains Paris, it pours in Brussels, according to the old saying. In the spring of 2006, the 3 Belgian mobile operators have launched their ‘Gallery’. Listening to the name ‘PlazZza’, it serves as a platform shared by advertisers, content providers and m-commerce providers. There is also the rising of new payment systems (Mpay, wHa) that allow easy WAP billing. The first drops have fallen, now let’s wait for the first serious rainstorm.

More information: www.gallery.fr

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