WASPs Have Buzz, Sting Is Uncertain

Wireless ASPs jump into a market where other ASPs have failed.

Remember when mobile commerce was the hot buzzword? Now a new set of wireless hopefuls armed with chutzpah and hype are throwing their hats into the tumultuous waters of the application service provider space. Get ready for the Wireless ASPs.

Some industry observers foresee a brighter picture for wireless ASPs (WASP) than for their troubled nonwireless counterparts. For one thing, WASPs offer technology, expertise and infrastructure thats inaccessible to most enterprise IT departments right now except through outsourcing.

"Enterprises are also outsourcing to WASPs because they see risk involved with wireless implementations, due to the number of devices out there on the market," says Larry Mittag, VP and chief technologist with wireless integrator Stellcom.

No Bang Yet While most WASPs host wireless apps, some perform services such as application development, customization, network management and customer service. However, many run their own professional-services arms, and some also partner with outside integrators and resellers.

But the U.S. market has yet to explode for many of the WASPs who are finding their customer wins are on the B2C side and in Europe. Some U.S.-based B2B deployments are under way, but many revolve around niche or trial applications.

Even with IT dollars in holding patterns, enterprises are starting to work with WASPs on implementations ranging from pharmaceutical field trials to international package tracking. Opportunities also are opening up for partners such as telecom carriers, ISPs, conventional ASPs, integrators, resellers, OEMs and ISVs, although sometimes the business models are a bit unconventional.

That was apparent at last weeks Internet World Wireless show in New York. The new breed of WASPs included new players as well as some old names. Exhibitors included firms such as Aether, Agency.com, OmniSky, OracleMobile and RPA Wireless.

Inspired by the market momentum, some conventional ASPs are now adding WASP services to their portfolios. That growing list includes Business Monkey, which hosts the nonwireless component of Aethers network, according to Larry Mintz, Business Monkeys VP of business development.

Wireless Roots Aether, one of the oldest wireless ASPs, opened its doors in 1996, and is perhaps best known for a series of handheld stockbroker apps, produced for OEM partners Palm and RIM. But Aethers customer list also includes a number of enterprise customers. In one application, for example, the U.S. Postal Service is using wireless handheld scanners from Symbol to help track packages sent out for international shipment, says John Clarke, Aethers corporate VP for wireless hosting services.

Aether works with wireless integrators such as Analysts International, Cyber, Mobilocity and Proxicom. The WASPs distribution channels include the ePhones.com Web site, notes John Stabb, Aethers sales director for the Northeast region.

For its part, Aether plans to remain a WASP. "We want to specialize in that and to do it extremely well," says Clarke.

RPA Wireless, which has cast itself into a WASP field, got started back in 1984 as a radio-based field dispatch service. In transitioning into a WASP, the company—which has a roster of customers that include Fortune 500 firms—expanded into services that include e-mail, voice-mail messaging and inventory control.

All Aboard Oracle, on the other hand, just stepped into the WASP arena last September. Last week, OracleMobile announced partnerships with European network operators along with three European B2B customers.

Pharmaceutical giant Glaxo Wellcome will use OracleMobile in its drug-field trials in hopes of saving time and money. Patients outfitted with cell phones will return their information directly to an Oracle 9i database, reducing the need for paperwork, according to Jacob Christfort, OracleMobiles CTO and VP of product development. "A company could come to market with a new pharmaceutical years ahead of its competitors," Christfort says.

OracleMobiles partners include the Chicago Systems Group, a systems integrator; Screaming Media, a reseller of "wireless enablement; and Visto for e-mail and PIM technology.

Christfort predicts that as wireless technology becomes more tightly integrated with Web infrastructures, WASP and ASP services ultimately will be unified into a single hosting environment.

But the jury is still out on just how long the early enthusiasm for WASP will last and how many WASPs will survive.