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Mobile commerce (m-commerce) is a business model that was derived from electronic commerce (e-commerce). Thus, it is described as the process in which the transaction involving the purchase and sales of goods and services in which it was initiated and completed by using a mobile device on a computer-mediated network (Wikipedia, 2010). In short, it is just a fancy of saying that mobile commerce allows people to buy and sell goods and services using mobile devices. This definition was coined by Ranjish Riwari and Dr. Stephan Buse in a research report entitled The Mobile Commerce Prospects: A Strategic Analysis of Opportunities in the Banking Sector. Another way of thinking about M-Commerce is that it is an amalgamation of technologies that combine together to provide a useful service. In essence, m-commerce can be described as a combination of mobile technology, internet, and business.



Mobile Technology

An example of a mobile device: HTC Smartphone
Within the last century, mobile communication technology (or mobile technology) has emerged as one of the most significant innovations. Mobile technology is an umbrella term used to describe various portable telecommunication technologies and devices. Through the use of mobile devices such as laptops, personal digital assistants (PDA), mobile phones, and global positioning systems (GPS), people are able to communicate and interact in a more efficient and effective manner (Bisiness Link, n.d.). This efficiency can be achieved by using the aforementioned devices to enable a variety of communication technologies such as wireless fidelity (Wi-Fi), Global System for Mobile Communication (GSM), and General Packet Radio Service (GPRS) (Bisiness Link, n.d.).

Within the last decade, the mobile phone has elevated to the top of the list of many—if not all—mobile device users. Over the past ten years, user requirements for the mobile phone on a functional basis has evolved drastically. At present, the sole function of being able to make and receive calls is rather trivial. Mobile phones are now expected to a Jack of all trades by acting as a user's personal assistant, photographer, and entertainment powerhouse—among various other roles. Given the important positions that the mobile phone holds within society, it can no longer be considered as a necessity, but rather an extension of a person.

With rapid growth occurring not just within Canada, the importance of mobile technology—and more specifically mobile phones—is evident on a worldwide level. According to a survey conducted by Sprint Corporation, when compared to other technologies, over 80% of respondents within the 18 to 34 years old age demographic admits that their cell phones are essentially their “lifeline” (Cell Phone Digest, 2009). To a similar degree, statistics from mobiThinking (2010) provides further evidence to demonstrate the importance and prominence of the mobile phone worldwide:

  • By early 2010, the total number of mobile phone users worldwide were well over 4.6 billion. Likewise, that number is expected to exceed five billion within the same year, which is equivalent to over 70% of the global population
  • By the end of 2009, more than half a billion users used their mobile phones to browse the Internet. Projections shows that within the next five years, this number is expected to double and mobile phones will eventually replace personal computers (PC) as the primary method of choice for accessing the internet.
  • Within 2009, five trillion short (text) messages were sent globally. At its current rate, the number of messages sent is estimated to double to ten trillion by the year 2013
  • On a financial scale, the value of the mobile messaging business has surpassed $150 billion U.S dollars and will most likely increase to $233 billion in less than 5 years

Since the 1980s, mobile phone technologies has grown dramatically. Based on the significant technical innovation, the trend of development can be divided into four major generations.

1G & Analog System

In 1979, the first profit-generating first generation (1G) network was constructed in Japan. The first generation of mobile telecommunication technology mainly refers the analog network system. Through the erection of multiple cell sites within a network coverage area, voices were sent and received while users were mobile via analogue signals (Wikipedia, 2010). Due to the slow rate of data transfer, the sole function of 1G mobile phones was intended exclusively for voice transmission as other forms of data transmissions would not be plausible. As a pioneer technology, there was a lack of a globally unified standard for the 1G network. However, there were several notable 1G systems, which included, but are not limited to: Nordic Mobile Telephone (NMT) in Northern Europe; Advanced Mobile Phone System (AMPS) in the Americas and Australia, and Total Access Communication System (TACS) in the U.K. (Wikipedia, 2010).

2G & Digital System

First generation Apple iPhone on EDGE network
The second generation (2G) cellular system appeared in the 1990s and it brought about a change in data transmission. Rather than the traditional analog networks that were used for the 1G system, there was a shift towards the use of digital signals instead. The shift in technology offered cellular phone subscribers a much better speech quality; in addition, the mobile devices became smaller and cheaper. The 2G system also provided a faster rate of data transmission, in which a speed of 14.4kbit/s can be reached. Thus, making it seven times faster than that of its predecessor in which its speed maxes out at 2.4kbit/s (Harries, 2009).

Likewise, the 2G system also established a unified standard through the introduction of the Global System for Mobile Communication (GSM), which was accepted by the vast majority of cellular phone manufacturers and service vendors worldwide. Along with the GSM standard, the now widely used Subscriber Identity Module (SIM) card was introduced. With this, mobile phone subscribers can save their mobile service identification information onto a small chip. In essence, this allowed users to comfortably switch their mobile phones or service providers with ease simply by changing SIM cards (Search Mobile Computing, 2006).

Through multiple innovations such as faster data transmission and the GSM standard, a new caliber of functions were made possible for 2G mobile devices. The most notable application was the short message system (SMS), which was introduced in 1992 (Wikipedia, 2010). By using digital signals, the type of data transmitted is no longer restricted to voices only. Thus, allowing users to send and receive text based messages via SMS. Users were then able to take advantage of written communication through their mobile phones.

Unlike its predecessor, the 2G system undergone several facelifts and improvements throughout the span of its life. During the late 1990s, several versions of the updated GSM systems appeared. The most noteworthy upgrade was the General Packet Radio Service (GPRS). When comparing the updated GPRS with the traditional GSM system, the difference in data transmission speed was tenfold in favor of the GPRS. The updated system can now reach a peak rate of 114kbit/s, thus expanding the range of data that could be sent from one mobile phone to another (Wikipedia, 2010). As such, GPRS compatible phones were able to send multimedia based messages via the new Multimedia Message System (MMS). Similar to SMS, users can send text based messages but with multimedia attachments such as pictures, sound and video clips. Thus, MMS can be considered as an improved SMS.

Likewise, upgrades such as the Wireless Application Protocol (WAP) function offers mobile phone users the capability of browsing the Internet on their handheld devices. However, the speed was nowhere near that of a PC, as such a lot of the website contents were restricted due to limited capacity of the mobile device. The introduction of the GPRS later paved way for another upgrade in the GSM system known as the Enhanced Data Rates for GSM Evolution (EDGE) and Universal Mobile Telecommunications System (UMTS). All these advances could be identified as the cornerstones of the 3G generation (Usha Communications Technology, 2000).

3G & PC Capability

Blackberry Bold 9000 using 3G network
The conception for the technologies used in the third generation (3G) system was dated back to the mid 1980s. During that time it was given the code name of the International Mobile Telecommunications 2000 (IMT-2000) (International Telecommunication Union, n.d.). As such, it was launched until the early 2000s. In 2001, the first sign of the third generational system emerged when a Japan based company, NTT DoCoMo, introduced the world’s first 3G mobile network service called “FOMA” (3G Newsroom , 2003). According to the International Telecommunication Union, the new generation presented an unprecedented speed for the rate of data transmission. Under the 3G standard, users can experience a rate of 384Kbps while mobile, up to 2Mbps while remaining stationary (n.d.).

With the exceedingly high speed as a foundation, service providers were able to introduce and provide services—aside from SMS and MMS—to 3G mobile phone owners that were once thought of as being unrealistic or farfetched. These services includes, but are not limited to mobile TV, video on demand, various applications, and games that were comparable to those made for handheld game consoles (3G Newsroom , 2003). Two common 3G network standard used today are Wideband Code Division Multiple Access (W-CDMA) and Code Division Multiple Access 2000 (CDMA 2000) (Cellular Online, n.d.). Moreover, advanced mobile technologies such as Smartphones and 3G networks, users practically has an entire PC in the palm of their hand.

4G & The Future

The fourth generation of mobile service refers the International Mobile Telecommunications Advanced (IMT-Advanced). It is a 3G based technology with even greater data transmission speed, which is expected to surpass the speed of the current 3G network by tenfold. This particularly fast data transmission rate is ideal for features such as video calling, online games and high-definition mobile TV or video streaming. Even though it has just emerged, people still believe this will be another noteworthy innovation in the history of mobile telecommunication (ITU, 2010).

Mobile Technology in Business Application

Aside from the major impact that mobile technology has on the consumer sector, it also significantly influences the business world and shapes how business is being conducted in the 21st century. Businesses have found ways to take advantage of mobile technologies across their various business functions. With the current 3G in heavy use and 4G on the horizon, businesses recognize that many people who owns a Smartphone such an iPhone, Blackberry, or an Android phone, uses it as a pocket PC in lieu of a laptop or netbook when they are mobile. As such, the option for businesses to promote their brand along with their goods and service offerings through mobile advertising is a way for them to become or remain competitive. Moreover, businesses are also able to employ more efficient and effective customer relationship management by directly interacting with their customers through social networking sites, blogs, and micro blogging services such as Twitter. Moreover, with regards to sales, many companies are now creating their own applications for Smartphones to sell their products and services in a more efficient and convenient manner. Mobile technology and the relationship it has with businesses has evolved drastically throughout the years. As a result of the develop of the 2G and 3G networks, a new business model was erected for businesses to take advantage of, mobile commerce (m-commerce).


Electronic commerce (e-commerce) is the process in which the purchase and sales of goods and services occurs over an electronic network such as the Internet. It evolved in tandem with the advent of credit cards, telephone banking, and the World Wide Web. Classic, well-known e-commerce corporations include Amazon and eBay. E-Commerce has grown tremendously in the past few years, with the primary driver being the rapid adoption of internet usage around the globe. The growth of e-commerce may be spurred by the many advantages it has over traditional face-to-face shopping. These advantages include convenience (shop in your underwear), crowd avoidance, variety, and greater potential for better bargains.

Between 1982 and 2009, in the span of just 28 years, e-commerce has evolved from primitive online ordering, to a multi-multi-billion dollar industry. It is clear that e-commerce has been growing significantly and has no indications of stopping any time soon. It is projected that online retail sales will climb to $173 billion in 2010 (Wikipedia, 2010).  


The diagram depicts M-Commerce as a combination of mobile technology, the internet, and business

With respect to the consumer sector, m-commerce has been in practice for several decades. For years consumers have made purchases for downloadable goods for their mobile phones such as ringtones, wallpapers, games and videos directly from their service provider. However, in recent years with the Smartphone hype generated by the Apple iPhone, various Blackberry devices, and Android phones, it is more common than ever for consumers to use their phone to purchase downloadable third party applications.

Likewise, many businesses like Papa John's International Pizza recognized the boom in use of mobile phones. As such, in mid 2008, Papa John's began to capitalize on m-commerce business model by allowing their customers to place orders on a mobile browser tailored website (Kharif, 2009). The website was created having taken into consideration the size and the limited space of a mobile phone screen (Kharif, 2009).

Due to the growing popularity of Smartphones—rich and detailed displays, along with easy to use qwerty keyboards—consumers worldwide are embracing the idea of purchasing physical goods using their mobile phones. The items that were once limited to either online or in-store shopping such as books, clothes and household items are now widely purchased via the m-commerce sales channel. If businesses and retailers are able to provide their customers with secure and easy to use mobile websites, they can stand to gain from offering their goods and services through mobile channel.

Retailers are slowly but surely catching onto the m-commerce phenomenon. By the last quarter of 2009, approximately half of the well known retailers within North America, such as American Eagle, have created a mobile version of their site so that consumers can view the content in a manner that would be optimized by their mobile phone's screen. This equates to a 20% increase from 2008, and many companies are now focusing their time and attention in developing these mobile sites (Kharif, 2009).

Current Usage

The following table summarizes the primary applications of M-Commerce:

Application Explanation of Usage
Mobile Ticketing Allows users to purchase tickets for air fare, movies, concerts, etc. Tickets can be sent directly to the mobile device. This can alleviate congestion on-site, for example, by decreasing the size of line-ups
Mobile Coupons Coupons can be sent directly to mobile devices and verified at the till
Content Purchases Games, ringtones, MP3s, etc
Information Services Weather, news, stock market prices, etc.
Mobile Banking Allows users to access their bank accounts with their mobile phones
Mobile Brokers Stock market transactions over the air
Mobile Ads Displays ads, possibly tailored to the users preferences
Location-Based Services Local weather, local news, local offers, tracking people, etc.

Payment methods include credit cards securely, billing the user’s monthly bill, prepaid cards, premium SMS, and premium-rate calling numbers (Binary Mantra Systems, 2009).


With over 270 million cellular phone users in the U.S., and 82% of them never leaving home without their devices (Berry, 2009), mobile commerce has gained increasing acceptance among end users. As cutting edge technology becomes more and more pervasive in society, people are now being exposed to these technologies right from birth.

Those who are most comfortable and most literate with mobile technology seem to be driving its growth. These include people in the 13-25 age group range (Wikipedia, 2010). These users are getting more and more comfortable with making purchases using their mobile devices, and businesses are beginning to make it all the more easier. Organizations, such as Pizza Hut and Starbucks, are providing mobile payment options, while many others are joining the bandwagon and creating WAP-based versions of their websites.

Advantages & Features

M-Commerce has several distinguishing features which make it unique, scalable, and generally highly useful:

  • Authentication: the combination of a SIM card and Personal Identification (PIN) are quite effective in making authentication simple, reliable and scalable
  • Pervasiveness/Ubiquity: transactions can be performed virtually anywhere, regardless of geographical location
  • Availability: services available anytime, in real-time, whenever the user wants
  • Localization: services can custom-tailored to where you are, for example, by using GPS
  • Instant connectivity: convenience through always-on connectivity provides the user with virtually instantaneous service

These features in turn give rise to a set of advantages that are specific to M-Commerce:

  • Context-specific services: m-commerce allows for location-based services that are specific to a given context (time of day, location, interests)
  • Time-critical situations: (users can perform urgent tasks, regardless of geographic location, quickly and efficiently, due to the ubiquity and availability of m-commerce)
  • Spontaneous decisions and need: spontaneous needs such as small ticket items can be satisfied instantly
  • Increased efficiency: M-commerce helps increase efficiency of daily routines, e.g. dead spots (like daily travel) throughout the work day can be used more effectively via the usage of m-commerce

Some services which could potentially endure significant growth include:

Mobile Application Usage
Mobile office paradigm Working from traffic jams, conferences, etc.
Mobile inventory management Location tracking of goods, people, etc.
Wireless data center Information purchased and downloaded by mobile users
Information Services Weather, news, stock market prices, etc.
Mobile entertainment Video on demand and other services
Mobile distance education Taking a class using streaming audio and video
Wireless re-engineering Improvement of business services

How it Affects Business

Juniper Research projects that M-Commerce transactions will exceed $200 billion by 2012 (Kharif, 2009). As a result, many businesses have taken action to take advantage of this phenomenon. eBay has leveraged mobile commerce and emerged as a leader. Their iPhone application have been downloaded over ten million times. The tool allows mobile users search, bid, receive alerts when their outbid, and pay for on auction items. eBay recorded m-commerce sales of $600 million worth of goods in 2009. In September of the same year, eBay claimed that their iPhone application alone generated $380 million in sales (Kharif, 2009). The most expensive item purchased using eBay's iPhone application thus far has been a Lamborghini Gallardo Spyder that cost $139,000 (Kharif, 2009).

Likewise, Papa John's was able to capitalize on the movement towards conducting business using m-commerce and by December 2008, Papa John's customers had used their mobile phones to place a total of one million dollars worth of their products. As such, Papa John's was able to witness a tenfold growth in mobile sales annually (Kharif, 2009).

Organizations like FedEx and IBM have already embraced m-commerce within the B2B space. FedEx offers mobile solutions that allows businesses to track shipments, while IBM has created WebSphere Commerce, allowing companies to offer personalized shopping experiences via their mobile phones. Other areas that potentially facilitate B2B m-commerce include corporate travel purchasing, inventory management, and financial applications such as brokerage services 

Intended and Unintended Outcomes

Mobile banking

Although mobile banking has been around for more than a decade, during the past two years, this channel has grown at warp speed. Mobile banking adoption in 2007 was two percent, in 2008 it was seven percent, and in 2009 it rose to 11 percent in US. In Kenya, their “formally banked” population has gone from just ten percent of the country to more than 40 percent in just the few years since the mobile operator introduced mobile money transfer services (Dan, 2010). Mobile banking deployment is a win-win situation for both consumers and the financial institution. End users gain 24/7 access to their financial information wherever they are, while the financial institution can leverage this channel to extend its presence, promote its brand, acquire and retain customers and establish a competitive advantage over the competition (Bank Technology News, 2010). On the other hand, 500 executives and business owners are polled from small and medium businesses in the United States, 55 percent of businesses were victims of fraud in the last 12 months, with 58 percent of fraud enabled by online banking activities (Penny, 2010).

Mobile shopping

Mobile shopping has been in the forefront when it comes to growth. The success can be attributed to two the companies that saw the both growth in mobile sales of physical goods, eBay and Amazon. The two combined was responsible for more than 70% of all mobile sales. eBay's success can be traced back to its iPhone application which allowed customers to perform all the activities that they would want and need to during the process of bidding for an item but with in a more efficient and convenience manner.

However, there is also significant potential for unsolicited commercial advertising, spam, and offering of special deals to customers. The potential for this will be even more significant as shops are able to monitor consumers who are in specific geographic locations. For example, a person walking through the Metropolis Mall, could receive a spam SMS message from one of the shops offering a special discount should they choose to go into the shop.

Mobile advertising

According to eMarketer (www.emarketer.com), mobile ad spending topped $760 million in 2009. Spending in 2008 was $648 million, 35% over 2007. Along with Apple iAds entering the mobile advertising, price of mobile application has iAd build in will be dropped and user are most likely to click into the Ad as iAd allow users to interact with advertising without taking them out of app, thus, bring more engagement.

However, mobile advertising might not be suitable for every product category. Researchers found that consumers are more likely to accept mobile advertising for certain product and service categories, such as weather forecasting, traffic updates, movie releases, and job openings (Jun, 2009).



Many consumers who own a Smartphone is most likely to have purchased a data plan option from their service provider. Service carriers in Canada offer metered plans that include a fixed amount of data (usually megabytes or gigabytes) and subsequently track the amount of data that the user uses each much. For example, Rogers’ mobile Internet browsing starts at $25 including 500Mb of downloadable data. If the user goes over the amount of data offered in the plan, the service provider will charge a ludicrous amount per number of kilobytes or megabytes that the user went over. As such many user are reluctant to use their phones for excess browsing. Other options are also made available to users in that they can pay on a pay-as-you-go basis, however the prices of these plans are usually considerably higher and subject to additional connection fees and the metered per-kilobyte usage rate fee (Esteban, 2007).

Operation System

While the technology does exist for m-commerce to exist, there lacks a standard in the software employed by various mobile phone manufacturer. One major concern for businesses is the fact that without a standard for mobile software applications such as a mobile browser, creating a mobile version of their website will prove to be a challenge. It is ideal for companies to have a set of standard to use to avoid any discrepancies between the mobile website they create and their customer's ability to optimally view that website. Moreover, without a standard for application development, many companies face the problem of having to cater their mobile application to fit various devices as opposed to having one standard application. This may prohibit some companies from attempting m-commerce applications until such time as they can offer it to all mobile users.

Privacy and security

Although these features and advantages provide tremendous benefits to the end-users, there are privacy concerns with respect to trust, data collection, and theft. Mobile users may unknowingly be subject to having their usage patterns tracked without their knowledge. This information may be collected through cookies and various web bugs (Grami & Schell, 2004).

In addition, the ubiquitous nature of mobile devices, with signals being sent through an open air medium, immediately creates a set of security concerns and vulnerabilities. In particular, the locality awareness of phones presents a serious privacy concern. Information about the users whereabouts could potentially be collected, compiled and analyzed in order to create a profile of the user’s whereabouts over time. Likewise, because mobile devices are small and portable, theft is a very real concern. Once a malicious thief has possession of your phone, they may exploit any and all of the data stored on it.

Currently, end-to-end security attempts to solve some of these issues. Encryption is a primary way of preventing unauthorized entities from accessing and manipulating data that is either being sent through the air or stored on the mobile device itself. Remote lockout or complete deactivation of a device serve to protect users that have had their devices stolen. Passwords and PIN authentication also serve as deterrents to mobile theft. Ironically, location-based services may also be used to track down mobile phones after they have been stolen (VeriSign, 2007).

Although security measures are in place, m-commerce is by no means a perfectly secure environment. Exploits which are not well known now may appear in the future, causing waves of disruption. Devices will always be prone to theft, and personal information will forever be stored on these devices.


Future Direction

Within the next few years, m-commerce should experience a high level of growth. With an average growth of 20% annually in the Smartphones owners, it is clear that it is the mobile handheld of choice for most (Kharif, 2009). With regards to the leading competitors within mobile phone market, Apple, Blackberry and HTC (along with other Android operated phones) will be in the forefront competing for the market leader position. Moreover, with the 4G network on the horizon, a growth in both Smartphone and data plans sales are expected to occur as well. Driven by the rapid advances in mobile technology and the ubiquitous widespread of the Internet, the deployment of m-commerce is unavoidable. M-commerce is also expected to generate more highly-personalized, context-aware, location-sensitive, and time-critical, applications. Given that can be achieved, both businesses and consumers alike will benefit a great deal from the use of mobile technologies and likewise from using m-commerce.

However, with that being said, Smartphone developers and m-commerce application developers must be able to construct products and services that upholds a high level of security in order for the growth to continue to grow rapidly thorough the next few years. The issue regarding security may be easier to resolve than the standards war. Given the product specification of each Smartphone created by various developer and manufacturers, the chances of having a standard for application developers to employ is highly unlikely. What will most likely happen is that companies will choose the market leader in Smartphone sales and go with that platform for their application development (like how Apple is currently the Smartphone of choice for applications to be developed for).

There are also indications that the next generation of wireless communications services based on 4G systems will not be limited to human (as it has been before) but rather to anything that very small wireless chips can be attached to (i.e., machine-to-machine communications) (Ali, 2004)

References & Useful Links

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