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Why WAP isn?t? as bad as people say

By Mike Street
Posted Sunday, December 5, 2004

It?s unlucky that the acronym for Wireless Application Protocol (WAP) has such an unfortunate rhyme! Even more unlucky for WAP, it burst onto the mobile communication scene with lavish promises from the Mobile Operators (you know who you are) of ?The Internet on your Mobile? and ?Take the Internet with you?

That really was a load of WAP.

So, a few years on we can ask, like Frankie Goes to Hollywood, ?WAP, what is it good for??

More than you might think, given the current deafening silence from those same Mobile Operators.

The rise (and rise) of SMS is instructive. This has gone from nowhere to everywhere with practically no promotion from the networks. Type SMS into Google and you get 52 million hits! In China in 2003, 220 Billion SMS messages were sent. During 2003 in the UK alone, 30 Billion were sent, which equates to 500 for every man, woman and child in the entire country! What is going on here?

Well SMS is cheap, not cheap enough perhaps but, up until a couple of years ago, much cheaper than calling. So it was a viable alternative to making a mobile phone call, everyone could send and receive them, and it didn?t matter what handset you used or what network you were on (or even which country you were in).

Much the same is true of WAP. Most handsets sold this century in GSM markets are compatible. Costs, especially using GPRS, are very low, as long as the information is optimised for the handset. Actually, it costs less to read your email with GPRS than to send an SMS. How times change!

And people are using it, too. In the UK in December 2003, the number of WAP pages viewed was over 1 billion for the first time. The Mobile Data Association (MDA) forecasts 13 billion for 2004 as a whole, up from 9.2 billion in 2003 (against an original MDA forecast for 2003 of 8 billion).

All this is in the face of complete indifference, if not outright hostility, from the networks. The problem for them is that, as mentioned, WAP is cheap. You can get all the mobile email you need via WAP to your handset for around one tenth of the cost of a RIM Blackberry data subscription. And please don?t ask how much the running costs are of a laptop mobile data card! A while ago, one of my colleagues used more data in a month than the cost of the mobile data card itself. Since then the networks have introduced more reasonable price bands, but he now gets all the email he needs on his cellular phone via WAP for one hundredth the amount spent during those expensive 30 days. And he doesn?t need to carry a laptop around with him, wait for it boot, wait again for it to download the mail, and balance it on one hand whilst holding his coffee with the other and his mobile phone in a third!

One of our customers for our mobile email software reads his mail whilst shaving in the morning ? he can find out what has been happening overnight without having to get his computer out, dial in and log on. Another browses whilst tending to his cows, miles from mains electricity. Yet another admits he reads his mail in board meetings ? so far luckily no-one has noticed his mobile sitting on the desk in front of him.

And there is for WAP, most likely, no new device to buy, either. Nothing additional to weigh down your pockets or to find room for in your briefcase. And it isn?t just good for email. You can also look up train timetables, get news & sports results, find medical information, find a restaurant and see what?s on the TV tonight.

And you can do all this, with the one electronic device that most people have with them all of the time ? their mobile phone.

So ? no new expensive devices are required, no high monthly charges are incurred and there is no waiting. No wonder the Mobile Operators aren?t impressed!

About the Author
Mike Street is Technical Director of Fast Communications Ltd (FastComm) in the UK. FastComm provides, installs, supports a variety of innovative communication products. For free downloads please visit (http://www.fastcomm.co.uk)