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Dial M for money

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DQW Bureau
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Ten minutes out in Singapore rain, and no cab. I call

6522-2222. "Welcome, passenger from Caribbean Apartments, press 7 to

confirm location." Oops. How'd they know where I was? I press 7.

"Car number 7265 will reach you in five minutes, thank you for using

Comfort Cabs." And it does.

An hour later I stop by a McDonald's, pick up a burger.

MRT,

I say, and they wirelessly debit the subway RFID card in my pocket. At the Expo

ground, at a Coke machine, I SMS the code to SingTel. A Coke can drops out, and

my phone bill gets a dollar charge.

Our world is spawning m-apps. For everyone's mobile:

workforce, customers, partners. They need info on the go. And the business that

gives it has the edge.

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Just as Fedex's package tracking raised the bar: 'overnight'

wasn't good enough any more. Customers wanted to know where their package was,

when it reached, who signed for it.

SMS is de rigueur for banks. It's convenient, and cheaper

for the bank than calling customers to an ATM. Yes, m-banking took its time, and

m-users are still the minority. But they're the higher net-worth folks, who

don't have time; the ones the bank needs to retain.

Among the mobile platforms, SMS is king. The 'terminal'

is common-everyone has a cellphone. They all SMS: from drivers to vegetable

sellers...I even know a few Americans who can 'text' now!

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Mobility has a long way to go, though. First, penetration,

and reliability. Banks could do a lot more to promote m-banking, and reduce

their own costs. Jet Airways could try making their SMS system actually work,

instead of saying "please try after some time.." whenever you send

"Jet 812" to 500 on Airtel. Ditto for Railways PNR info. I could go

on. If I can't trust a service to work, I won't use it.

And then, the wide open spaces in the market. M-data was one

big gap. No GSM provider had data offerings for the first ten years, saying

"there's no market...we're busy with voice." And then Reliance

launched its data service for laptop users, POS card terminals, ATMs... A year

later, Airtel was scrambling to follow with its Blackberry and data cards and

GPRS.

Location-based services, as in my Singapore taxi experience,

is the other big open area. CIOs I've spoken to have yearned for simple, cheap

LBS service without expensive GPS. They want to see, on a screen, roughly where

their sales people are, now, in the city. One CIO said he had to build a truck

fleet app using an SMS gateway: his truck drivers SMS their location every few

hours. This is silly: the network already knows their locations. Airtel et al

use that info only to tell the truck driver himself. "There is no

market".

There's an m-world of opportunity out there, for those who

venture out to explore it.

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