Uncertainty about which types of wireless Internet technology will dominate is leading America West Airlines and other early adopters to outsource e-business services rather than invest in infrastructure that could be obsolete within a few months.
While most enterprises are holding off on adding these capabilities to their sites, wireless is catching on in niche markets such as air travel, where business travellers often are away from a wired connection.
America West this month joined the growing ranks of airlines offering customers access to flight information via Web-enabled cell phones, two-way pagers and PDAs. The airline is outsourcing to wireless service provider Everypath in an effort to get to market quickly without significant up-front capital investment.
Airlines have little choice but to add services because competition within the market is fierce. Competitors such as Delta Air Lines, Northwest Airlines and United Airlines already offer similar services, said Henry Harteveldt, an analyst with Forrester Research.
Wireless is still so new that it is impossible to know which technologic platform will catch on, Harteveldt said.
“The surest way to go about this is by using an outsourced solution because this is all so new and so raw,” said Harteveldt.
The addition of Everypath didn`t require changes to America West`s site, said Lloyd Parker, the airline`s managing director for e-business. America West worked with Everypath during the development of the wireless site to make certain it looked and operated in a fashion similar to the airline`s wired Web site.
When a wireless user requests information at www.americawest.com, the America West server redirects the request to a server operated by Everypath. The Everypath server recognizes the type of device and browser being used, sends the appropriate Web code and handles all subsequent requests.
America West currently serves flight schedules, real-time flight status and frequent flier account information to cell phones that use the Wireless Application Protocol (WAP), handheld devices using Palm OS and Research In Motion (RIM) two-way BlackBerry pagers. Everypath serves different devices by translating the HTML code used on the America West Web site into the codes used by the various devices. The codes include Wireless Markup Language and Handheld Device Markup Language. Everypath can serve other wireless devices, such as those using NTT DoCoMo`s i-Mode protocol, should America West want to add those services.
The ability to add support for other services quickly and cheaply was a reason America West chose to outsource the wireless service, said Scott Kirby, senior vice president of e-business for America West.
Kirby said: “It was less expensive, more reliable, more scalable and more flexible to outsource to someone with the expertise in place than to attempt to build and maintain the infrastructure and the expertise ourselves.”