Is there really a wireless revolution taking hold in America? Industry analysts at International Data Corp., based in Framingham, MA, estimate that more than 35 million American households with personal computers are online.

"But there are over 75 million cellular/PCS subscriptions and as many as 40 million paging subscribers," says Iain Gillott, vice president of worldwide consumer and small business telecommunications research at IDC. "We forecast that by the end of 2002, there will be more wireless subscribers capable of Internet access than wired Internet users."

Additionally, if you believe a recent study underwritten by Tantau Software of Austin, TX, receiving and checking financial information will be among the top reasons why individuals will own Web-enabled wireless phones.

But Tantau's survey also found less interest, at least among today's users, in conducting banking and other financial transactions on their cell phones. And keep in mind that Tantau specializes in providing wireless software to banks and other financial institutions, many of which are jumping on the wireless bandwagon, citing customer demand for access.

But there's no clear evidence at this point that any such demand exists. Tantau focused its research primarily on "early adopters"--those most likely to use the new technology, or already using it. How many everyday people are expecting to make mortgage payments in the car?

Of course, it's true that--aside from banking--wireless is on a roll. But if there's any chance that wireless will catch on for banking, that roll will have to escalate.

And, in America, wireless has been slow to gain momentum. Technology research and consulting firm TowerGroup based in Needham, MA, estimates that there were as many as 85 million wireless phone subscriptions in the United States by the end of 1999--10 million more than IDC's estimate. Impressive enough, but it pales in comparison with European numbers, which TowerGroup believes to have reached nearly 150 million last year.

A true wireless revolution is taking place in Western Europe, where wireless phone subscriptions are soaring, and the number of individuals accessing the Internet via cell phones has steadily increased. IDC expects wireless phone subscriptions to surpass 300 million by 2004, making Western Europe the first market to boast more mobile than fixed-line phones.

And while perhaps it seems unlikely that U.S. consumers will be making their mortgage payments and doing other routine banking chores via mobile phones, the picture changes when you add personal digital assistants with wireless Web hook-ups into the mix. It's very likely that at least some impatient American consumers would be eager to take advantage of wireless access by checking up on their accounts--say when writing a big check at the grocery store--or to compare rates and fees before taking out that car loan at the auto dealership.

The question is: How many, and how often?


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