Dial-A-Cola - an Introduction to m-Commerce Content from the guide to life, the universe and everything

Dial-A-Cola - an Introduction to m-Commerce

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The increased human reliance on mobile telephones combined with the steady move towards a cashless society has resulted in a novel way of purchasing soft drinks.

m-Commerce is the process of paying for services using a mobile phone or personal organiser. It allows the users of vending machines in Norway, Finland and Dubai (where soft-drinks companies have struck deals with the local telecommunications companies) to purchase their fizzy drinks through their phone, without them needing to find the correct change.

We Have the Technology ...

The machine itself is equipped to both send and receive signals over the telephone network, the Internet, or even through Bluetooth radio technology. The customer follows the instructions printed on the machine to either phone or send an SMS message to a 'service'. Despite what one might expect, the customer doesn't directly phone the machine; instead the intermediate 'service' handles the communication between the two. This sends both the customer's and the machine's identity to the service, which, after confirming the customer's identity, authorises the machine to dispense the product. Security is provided through a variety of methods including a PIN-code, data on the 'phone's SIM-card etc.

... but How Do We Pay?

The customer can be billed for both the purchase and the call via their telephone bill or separately by charging the call at the normal rate and the drink to a special m-commerce account. Clearly there is then some scope to link (by direct debit) the m-commerce account to the customers normal bank account.

m-commerce - Winners and Losers

Payment via the telephone bill makes the phone company vulnerable to someone who buys lots of items, but then disappears before they settle their bill. While only vending machines have m-commerce capabilities, this is not really a big risk. However, with some parking-meters already allowing m-commerce, the industry is showing signs of expanding its product-base in order to properly capitalise on its investment in technology development, which will open up the doors to the 'm-fraudsters'.

Nevertheless, m-commerce will, no doubt, be marketed as the 'next big thing'. For many it is most certainly a convenient way to shop for those small items without carrying around a pocketful of change. However, closer inspection may suggest that it is the consumers who have most to lose. First, those who use m-commerce will, instead of just paying for their soft-drink, need in addition to pay for the cost of the call. It may seem like a token tax to pay, but the greater number of services available, the higher the number of calls necessary. Second, a not insignificant population may become disenfranchised. Just as making a single call-box telephone call is already difficult without possession of a pre-paid card, so those without a mobile phone may one day find that they can't park their cars or buy a soft-drink.

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