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Proxicom, services industry turning to wireless

Internet consulting company Proxicom is the latest in its niche to develop a wireless strategy for a client, as the industry focuses on content over devices.

Internet consulting company Proxicom is the latest in its niche to develop a wireless strategy for a client, as the industry focuses on content over devices.

The company announced a deal today to help USA Today develop a wireless strategy for the newspaper's business-traveler customers.

Proxicom will work with a technology team from USA Today and wireless partner Aether Systems, which provides wireless data services such as real-time stock quotes and Internet access.

Last December, Proxicom launched its wireless consulting practice alongside a partnership with Ericsson.

Rivals such as Razorfish, Scient, iXL, Sapient and have already started offering services and other options for customers in the United States, as well as Europe, where wireless device use is booming. The so-called Big Five consulting houses and other traditional services firms are providing wireless strategy planning and other services. Internet services companies traditionally help clients with all aspects of building their Web business, including Web strategy, design and systems integration work.

"All the consulting firms are moving in this area," said Stephanie Moore, an analyst at Giga Information Group. "Just as the Internet was seen as this revolutionary thing, so is wireless.

"In reality (the Net) was just a new interface for users. Wireless is the new delivery mechanism for information today. All of (the consulting companies) are going to have wireless practices."

Among the Internet services companies, Proxicom, Razorfish and Sapient are "really making a strong effort to get the wireless skills," Moore said.

Earlier this week, Razorfish said it was expanding its mobile consulting practices and intends to build a U.S. wireless research and development lab within the next year. Razorfish was one of the first from its group of competitors to make an early bet on wireless. The company runs a wireless lab in Finland and seven offices in Europe. It has also partnered with Nokia and Ericsson to deliver wireless-based services to corporate clients in the United States, as well as overseas.

Analysts say most businesses are moving slowly to hire consulting firms to flesh out wireless strategies, but they expect a boom fueled by the fast-growing number of handheld users. The projected figures for wireless phone subscribers have prompted a number of technology providers to plan new services for handheld devices.

According to market research firm Yankee Group, there will be more than 1 billion mobile phone owners by 2003, and about 60 percent of those phones will be Net-ready.

"We're right at the beginning stages," Moore said. "I'm not seeing massive interests from clients just yet, but people are beginning to look at these wireless technologies" for their business.

Susan Scrupski-Miranda, an analyst who heads IT Advisory Services, said most of the so-called e-services firms are already nabbing a number of wireless deals in Europe, which will help them when wireless picks up in the United States.

"You obviously want someone that's done wireless work before," said Scrupski-Miranda. "In general, customers don't have the experience to do it themselves. A lot of the e-services firms are aggressively moving into wireless in Europe, and they're bringing a lot of that expertise to the U.S."