IDC: Wireless Web surfers to outnumber wired crowd by 2003

By the end of 2002, wireless subscribers with Internet access will outnumber wired Internet users, according to a new study conducted by International Data Corp. (IDC).

More than 40 million U.S. households are currently online, but there are more than 75 million cellular or personal communications systems (PCS) subscribers and more than 40 million paging service subscribers in the U.S., according to Iain Gillott, an analyst at Framingham, Mass.-based IDC.

By mid-2001, all new digital cellular and PCS handsets will support the Wireless Application Protocol (WAP), leading to a dramatic increase in the number of people who will be able to access the Internet using wireless devices, Gillott said.

The numbers may also get a boost from telecommunications carriers, which might push customer services via wireless devices as a cost-cutting measure, according to Gillott. For example, a carrier typically pays $1.50 to $2.50 to print out a customer's bill and send it through the mail, he said. Sending notification to customers through their wireless devices could cut that cost by as much as $1, Gillott said.

The shift to wireless will also have a huge impact on information technology staffs and webmasters, Gillott said. Customers who access a Web site via a phone with a small screen will not be able to see the same information that PC users see, he said. As a result, companies will need to think about displaying the information on their sites for wireless device users or perhaps having separate sites for wired and wireless users, he said.

Carriers' WAP servers can determine whether a caller is using a PC or a wireless device and then direct traffic to the appropriate site, Gillott said.

Although wireless Web users won't be in the majority for a few years, opportunity abounds for those who have anticipated this shift, according to Gillott.

"Today, there are companies doing a nice little business saying, 'You need to make your site mobile,' " he said.

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Copyright © 2000 IDG Communications, Inc.

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