Amidst dying enthusiasm that the Wireless Application Protocol (WAP) will last, at least one company remains optimistic about its future. Finnish mobile phone vendor, Nokia, believes the wireless standard still deserves a rosy outlook.
WAP is a set of software protocols that will enable mobile phones from any compliant manufacturer to send and receive data across any WAP-enabled wireless network, allowing users to access and retrieve information from the Internet.
Although the protocol started out fine enough, it has lately come under heavy scrutiny, where criticism of WAP have included remarks such as "boring", "grey-on-green text", and "only a transitional technology". But despite the growing barrage of criticism, WAP still manages to rise above its demise, with research firm IDC projecting that more than 1.3 billion wireless Internet users worldwide will have WAP-enabled devices by 2004.
And the growing number of members in the global WAP Forum – now standing at around 500 – signals the confidence that WAP still has significant potential, said Heikki Tarvainen, director of mobile services and business development, mobile phones, Nokia Asia-Pacific.
The WAP Forum, of which Nokia is a co-founder and participant, is responsible for defining and promoting the standard, and collectively represents over 95 per cent of the global handset market, as well as carriers with more than 200 million subscribers. Nokia recently also launched its WAP Toolkit 2.0, which can be downloaded for free from its Web site.
The software enables developers to write, test and debug WAP 1.1 and 1.2 applications in a PC-based environment. It also supports prototyping of applications such as push services. Although a more complete array of WAP products and terminals will only really come into play next year, the market still expects everything to move in Internet speed, which Tarvainen said, could have caused the overall disappointment in WAP.
Tarvainen dismissed suggestions that WAP will inevitably expire once high-speed wireless technologies and networks such as third-generation (3G) and General Radio Packet Service (GPRS) come into play.
"GPRS and 3G are just the core network technologies. You will still need the platform standard, which is what WAP is all about," he explained, noting all three will work alongside one another.
"WAP will be needed even if higher data rates are available," said Tarvainen, and added that the protocol will evolve further as a standard. By the end of 2003, there will be more handsets than there are PCs that have connection to the Internet, he said.
Within the "mobile information society", a majority of all human communication will take place with personal wireless terminals, where the "substance of personal mobile communication evolves from voice to text to images to multimedia," Tarvainen said.
Service providers in the WAP market must remember that providing the total user experience is "not just the presentation of the service in the phone user interface, but the whole browsing experience from phone form factor to speed of connection to actual service content," he urged.