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Fortnightly No 2000/4 - Paris, Wednesday, August 2, 2000


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  Surge in announcements about wireless services. Latest examples - Galileo and biztravel.com  

Over the past few weeks analysts have been issuing an increasing number of warnings about the future of m-commerce (commerce via wireless Internet technologies).

After a triumphant début at the beginning of this year, notably at the Hanover Fair, the first trials of wireless services, in particular WAP, have left a number of market observers feeling skeptical.

For one thing, surveys have show that there is no great enthusiasm among future consumers and, for another, several different technological standards are still competing against one another.

The recent announcement of a forthcoming alliance between AOL and NTT, concerning the American provider's adoption of DoCoMo, has reinforced our doubts about the real potential of WAP.

In the wireless Internet market, the rule is "all or nothing": a standard is either adopted rapidly by all the players (as was http when it was introduced, for example) and becomes a common platform, allowing content suppliers to build stable business models since they are sure that a maximum number of people will be able to access their services, or else groups of industrial partnerships are formed proposing a number of rival solutions. If the latter is the case, wireless Internet will only be exploitable by niche markets.

With the economic battle currently at its height, it is difficult to know which of these two options is going to carry the day.

This analysis is particularly important for eTourism sites. They are, in effect, amongst the first to be concerned by wireless Internet, which they will use mainly for alert services (delayed flights, last minute opportunities), itinerary planning and reservations. In fact, most of the important eTourism sites have already been reflecting on the subject for several months, with a strong accent on BtoB services, where time-saving issues and frequent alerts are of prime importance.

Two of the many announcements made recently are particularly worthy paying attention to: biztravel.com's and Galileo's.

Biztravel.com, Rosenbluth Interactive's virtual agency, has taken the ambitious step of offering all its services via wireless systems, i.e.:

  • checking flight status and availability

  • car and hotel reservations

  • alerts about delayed flights

  • the possibility for travelers to download a series of itineraries onto their mobile devices

To start with, these new services will only be available for business travelers, since they are the most prepared to pay for them. Later on, they will also be available to the general public. In addition, in order to solve the many technological problems involved, biztravel.com has recently formed a series of partnerships with players such as OmniSky, smartRay Network and Outercurve Technologies.


These two decisions (first to tackle the BtoB market and secondly to form alliances with technological partners) seem sensible to us and, clearly, most eTourism sites are going to follow suite.

Galileo's investment in wireless services is far more structuring for the company. The GDS wants to prove to the market and above all to its customers that it is now in sync with webtime and can offer them the "technological bricks" they need at just the right moment.

The wireless services Galileo is offering follow the same lines as most standard eTourism services, i.e. being able to reserve a trip directly, to change the parameters and to get information about travel arrangements in real time.

In line with its usual policy, Galileo has to decided to package its range of services and offer it to its partners in a transparent way. It has developed a solution using XML and Java (EJB components and JNDI interface).

And in order to accelerate diffusion of its technology, Galileo has opened its platform to outside developers for certain specific developments. Whereas the GDS was totally developed in-house, this time Galileo has asked a partner company, ObjectSpace, to set up communication passages between the different peripheral devices.

Since these technologies are so complex, bordering on Research & Development activities, we think it is sensible for eTourism sites to set up agreements with specialised start-ups, rather than trying to reinvent the wheel themselves.

A general public version of Galileo's technology is available on the trip.com site; we recommend that you take a look at this as it is a example of a wireless service which has successfully been integrated into an eTourism site.


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