By Rachel Chalmers The Wireless Application Protocol (WAP) Forum has announced the release of its WAP version 1.1 specification. Using WAP v.1.1, users of digital mobile phones and other wireless devices should be able to get information directly and securely from the internet or intranets. The WAP Forum now boasts 120 members drawn from telecommunications […]
By Rachel Chalmers
The Wireless Application Protocol (WAP) Forum has announced the release of its WAP version 1.1 specification. Using WAP v.1.1, users of digital mobile phones and other wireless devices should be able to get information directly and securely from the internet or intranets. The WAP Forum now boasts 120 members drawn from telecommunications and the computing industry. The protocol is designed to work as a common global platform to which the carriers can develop interoperable, value-added services for users of wireless devices. Regional telcos are particularly excited about WAP because it gives them a rare opportunity to differentiate their services in a deregulated, global market.
Not surprisingly, then, the new features in version 1.1 include better support for localization and internationalization. Static conformance statements for interoperability testing should help ensure that devices from different vendors play happily on networks built and run by different providers. A new client-side state model should help support a cacheing mechanism, which should in turn improve performance over limited-bandwidth networks. Most importantly, perhaps, WAP v.1.1 resolves various technical issues and ambiguities that had existing with WAP v.1.0. In other words, this iteration of WAP should make it ready for prime time deployment.
There are already WAP networks up and running in Europe and Japan, delivering news, stock quotes, telephone listings and other services from the internet to mobile phones in real time. AT&T is running a pre-WAP service called Pocket Net, which it promises to upgrade, while Sprint vows to launch WAP across North America in the fourth quarter. More than two dozen handset manufacturers have committed themselves to launching phones equipped with WAP micro-browsers this year. Even Microsoft Corp, which had been considered a standout, finally relented and joined the WAP Forum on May 5 1999.
Why all the excitement? Part of it involves the business model for cellular networks. Right now, those networks tend to run second-generation technologies like GSM, CDMA, TDMA or PDC in Japan. Even as those technologies move from switch-based to packet-based networking, they still only qualify as generation two-and-a-half. Carriers would dearly like to be able to build third generation networks, with new radio frequencies, able to carry voice at 8Kbps and data at speeds of up to 2Mbps.
To justify the enormous capital investment, however, they need consumers who will use data services as readily as they use voice. Right now, the average percentage of data carried on wireless networks is 1.5-2%. Analysts predict that WAP could increase that proportion to 30, 40 or even 50%, as business folk in the backs of taxis check the location of their destination by logging onto a map site from their cell-phone. That level of data use would justify the building plenty of 3G networks – and would, incidentally, ensure the future of the carriers who caught the WAP wave. As for the computer companies, their incentive to play ball is the expectation that wireless devices on the internet will eventually outnumber PCs.