Reality Check

I'm a passenger in a car, cruising around town and I'm bored.

Im a passenger in a car, cruising around town and Im bored. So I pull out my nifty cell phone and start shopping. I find an album I must have now and make the purchase — never mind that I have to wait a week for it to arrive in the mail.

Sound believable? I dont think so. But its a concept providers might be able to turn into reality if they tweak their mobile-commerce offerings.

There arent a lot of things I can imagine I need with such urgency that the best way to buy is on the go, with a cell phone. Trading stock using a wireless phone or personal digital assistant makes sense. Beyond that, Im with the more than 50 percent of cell phone users worldwide who said in an Accenture study that they cant find a good reason to access the wireless Web.

Myriad analysts are predicting massive m-commerce revenue, and just as many call m-commerce hype and suggest those sales wont happen. The disconnect may partly lie in the definition.

Some say m-commerce is any wireless data activity that makes money for a company along the value chain. So when a wireless user makes a restaurant reservation, the amount that user later pays, using cash or credit card, counts as m-commerce revenue. The Strategis Group uses that definition when it predicts $5 billion in m-commerce revenue by 2004.

Other companies, such as Qpass, stick to a stricter definition in which m-commerce describes a transaction on a wireless phone. Customers who buy goods, content or services over their wireless devices, or who use their phones as wallets to pay for something in a store, count in this definition.

Semantics aside, customers are more apt to use their wireless phones to pay for intangibles, like services or content. Shopping for a new computer? You might be willing to pay to read a consumer report on your cell phone.

Although many services are available over existing networks, using current handsets, few companies have been able to figure out the ones worth paying for. But theyd better figure it out fast — the customers are waiting.