Telecom Giants Scramble for China's Wireless Internet Market
By JONAH GREENBERG
December 15, 1999 Betting that the Internet revolution will arrive for most Chinese not on their personal computers or TV's but on their cellular telephones, many mobile phone makers, carriers, and Internet service providers are pouring resources into developing wireless Internet service in China.
Motorola, Ericsson, Nokia, Siemens, Alcatel, Microsoft, Phone.com and others are all developing portions of what will become a major delivery system for Internet services in China, executives at these companies said.
"Wireless Internet will be the primary way people access the Internet in China," said Bo Pyskar, vice president and general manager of Motorola's Wireless Internet Services division.
"ISP's [in China] are seeing this as a healthy new market," said Matthew Piette, Motorola's director of strategic marketing in the Internet Connectivity Solutions Division. "It's only logical that if our customers are looking for these kinds of service, we will be very firmly investing."
Sports, News, Email
The WAP Forum, a trade group for wireless Internet technology manufacturers, estimates that 60 million wireless handsets will be sold in China within two years, and 500 million by 2003.
Mainland China is already home to the world's largest mobile network using the so-called "GSM" platform. A major shift from Internet Protocol (IP) to Wireless Application Protocol (WAP) would be a jackpot for cellular operators and manufacturers of WAP telephone handsets who are already established in China's market.
New World Mobility, based in Hong Kong, has invested hundreds of millions of dollars into developing wireless Internet services since last year, according to the company's CEO, Albert Wong. "We forecast that within one to two years, 30 percent of our customers will use WAP services," Wong said.
On December 2, New World signed a contract to carry Yahoo! textual content including e-mail, news, Instant Messenger, and the weather over its wireless distribution network. New World is also seeking cooperation with more specialized content providers, such as banks and interactive game producers, Wong said. New World has also agreed to purchase Nokia's (NOK) cellular networks with WAP gateways necessary to broadcast in the wireless protocol.
Other content New World intends to supply via the wireless Internet connection includes stock prices, traffic information, sports scores. In Hong Kong, where horse racing is popular, race results will also be broadcast.
Although New World CEO Albert Wong says his company is focusing on the Hong Kong market, other companies say their presence in Hong Kong is a stepping stone into the China market.
"Our strategy has been to work in Hong Kong and Taiwan, to team up with some of the aggressive carriers, and to work out networks there with an eye towards China," said Ben Linder, vice president of marketing at Phone.com, one of the four founding companies of the WAP Forum, an industry group based in Fort Worth, Texas.
Phone.com (PHCM) supplies micro-browsers to manufacturers of wireless Internet devices, and WAP gateways to mobile network carriers. The micro-browsers are installed in WAP-enabled phones or handsets. The WAP gateways supplement a cellular relay tower's ability to broadcast WAP data. The company is already going ahead with Hong Kong's third largest carrier, Sunday, to provide WAP micro-browsers and WAP gateways.
HTML into WML
One reason developers of WAP services and products are hopeful about the success of WAP in China is that wireless Internet devices provide an inexpensive alternative to desktop personal computers. PC's in China cost a minimum 7,000 yuan (US$850), still far too much in a country where the average salary is around 500 yuan (US$60) a month.
"Already there are more cell phones in China than PC's," Linder said.
Because the content of any site on the World Wide Web will need to be rewritten in Wireless Markup Language (WML) from its current form in Hyper-Text Markup Language (HTML), Internet content providers will have the option of offering their product exclusively to certain carriers.
In recent months many established network carriers have announced partnerships with Internet service providers and content providers, such as New World Telephone's announcement in Hong Kong that they will offer Yahoo!'s textual content on their mobile Internet services.
"We're seeing these early exclusive partnerships between network operators and Internet content providers," said David Nieland, a spokesman for the WAP Forum. Nieland cited a recent match-up between Nokia and CNN.
To reach Jonah Greenberg: [email protected]