Now the Godzilla of mobiles has its eye on Europe

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The Independent Online

Last week I bemoaned the lack of enthusiasm for WAP, but news that Japan's mobile comms giant, NTT DoCoMo, is to set up a UK subsidiary and a research lab in Germany might put the necessary bomb under the UK WAP community, which has so far failed to ignite us.

Last week I bemoaned the lack of enthusiasm for WAP, but news that Japan's mobile comms giant, NTT DoCoMo, is to set up a UK subsidiary and a research lab in Germany might put the necessary bomb under the UK WAP community, which has so far failed to ignite us.

DoCoMo wants to push mobile internet phone services similar to its iMode - which currently has 12 million users in Japan and is widely acknowledged to be one of the most advanced wireless internet systems available - into Europe by 2001.

The CDMA (code division multiple access) mobile standard which underlies the iMode service is not currently viable on European networks, but DoCoMo has been buying up international carriers, including a deal with Dutch mobile company KPN Mobile NV, in order to make a roll out of an iMode-based services in Europe a reality. DoCoMo Europe will have initial capital of £3m and will start the ball rolling towards mobile operators and content providers in Europe early next month. Let's hope that news along with NTT's recent $150m deal with AOL is enough to get our local WAP industry sufficiently motivated.

Future tense

Despite my clinical case of WAPathy, the team behind WapitOver.com, a free, one-hour delivery service offering everything from music and books to Pringles and condoms in central London, were seated next to me at the recent Future UK Internet Awards.

As compere Mark Lamarr's jokes got steadily worse, I was intrigued to find what people used WAP for late at night. "Cigarettes and alcohol," wailed my new friend, sweeping up yet another bottle of wine from the centre of the table as the winner of the best WAP-enabled site was announced - not WapitOver.com but Worldpop.com.

No surprises that Stelios Haji-Ioannou picked up the prize for EasyEverything in the eCompany of the Year category, but I was disappointed when Big Brother picked up the Best Entertainment site, beating music site Peoplesound.com. OK, so Caggy had turned up in white leather and feathers, and cosmetically-enhanced Clare had plumped for a suitably strumpet-tastic red dress. "At least mine are real", cackled Caggy to my star-struck colleague, who is still unsure whether she meant feathers or otherwise.

Admittedly, the Big Brother site did attract 1.5 million users when Nasty Nick was ousted, and it boosted the status of streaming media. But it crashed regularly and might have put some people, for whom it was their first time online, off the internet forever. Or at least until the second series.

Banking doesn't click

A week doesn't pass without online banking hitting the headlines. In the same week I found out that my (offline) bank wants to charge me £5 to view my account details for June, I heard of an online service in Australia which allows users to view their account details across multiple banks on one site. Hmm.

Research announced last week by Deloitte Consulting, which questioned users in 10 countries including the UK, Brazil, Australia and Germany, suggested that 60 per cent of people in the UK are unlikely to take advantage of online banking, leaving us lagging behind everyone, again. But despite recent security scares, competition between online banks in here is increasing.

Last week, Halifax launched its massively delayed telephone banking service IF (Intelligent Finance), but we're still waiting for the online arm. Abbey National's internet banking arm, Cahoot, took advantage of the delays by increasing its incentives to open an online current account. But the biggest surprise came when research from MMXI Europe put Barclays.co.uk, which last month was hacked to pieces by the press over security breaches, in pole position over Egg in terms of visitors to the site.

If a dot.com arm with a short sharp name had exposed the account details of its customers to the world, the tuts would have drowned out any excuses. Security is consistently rated as one of the most important inhibitors to banking online, yet it doesn't seem to have damaged Barclays. It has, however, shown that what people say and how they act are two different things. I've been threatening to change banks since 1992 and have yet to get round to it, but this might just be the week.

To be or not b2b?

The business-to-business world, which has until now been seen by the industry as the self-assured, money-grabbing older sister of the uncertain, frivolous business-to-consumer sites, got a rather nasty surprise last week. E-exchange, a global online b2b exchange for the IT industry, went into administration.

E-exchange operates a "reverse auction" site, which lets IT resellers post large-volume requests and suppliers provide bids to compete to offer the lowest price. Its dilemma - find a last-minute reprieve or face insolvency - marks the first gust of ill wind in the b2b sector, which has until now avoided the accusations of unsound business models and stupid marketing budgets that have propelled the likes of dressmart.com, Clickmango and boo.com into the rather sickly green limelight.

We learned of E-exchange's difficulties just as PaperX, an online marketplace for the commercial paper industry, warned that the existing model for b2b internet exchanges, which, like E-exchange, largely charge suppliers per transaction, is untenable. The thinking is that a transaction fee puts a barrier between the supplier and the buyer, whereas a fixed fee charging system makes the b2b exchange a less threatening service provider. It's early days for the b2b market, but expect a lot more exchanges to learn the hard way which business model fits their particular industry.

Lisa.Simmons@haynet.com

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