WAP The World in Your Pocket

Remember
the time you wanted to find out Tendulkar’s current score
while you were travelling to your office. The long frustrating
wait in the queue at the railway ticket booking counter when you
sighed, “Alas! If only I could surf the Internet now for
some cool sites!” Also, the times when you desperately
wanted to sell off the shares of a sinking company right there
and then caught between a major traffic jam between Andheri and
Bandra in Mumbai.

Here
comes the mobile phone, which can take care of all these
specific needs and much more. Soon, you will be able to
literally “click and run”, once companies start
offering you Wireless Application Protocol (WAP)-based services
through mobile phones. The greatest draw would be that one would
be free to roam and yet be a cellphone away from the great
information library and communication system called the
Internet.

This is different from the
current situation where you have to connect the mobile phone to
a laptop and dial from the laptop to access the Internet. With
WAP services, you will not need to have a computer beside you,
as the mobile phone will act as a small pocket-sized computer,
which will effortlessly connect to the WAP content out there in
the Internet through the wireless network of your cellular
operator. Of course, the cellphone used has to be different from
what you use today in order to accommodate the Internet on it.
And needless to say, this might be a costly service, as even the
ordinary cellular service on which WAP service will run, is
still not within the reach of most segments of the Indian
society in terms of price.


What
Is WAP?

After years
of research to bring the Internet direct on to the mobile
phone, the wireless communication industry might have just
found a way in Wireless Application Protocol (WAP). WAP is a
wireless device platform that has been developed by the WAP
Forum–a forum comprising the leading players in wireless
communications technologies, mobile computing, mobile
services, and other software development and services. The
mission of the platform and the Forum that has developed it is
to provide a universal standard for accessing Internet content
and value-added services using wireless devices such as a
mobile phone.

WAP version 1.1 is the
first series of specifications that has been finalized to
enable the initial rollout of WAP services. Though it lacks
several features like push services, user profiles, WDP
tunneling, wireless telephony application, etc., which are
supposed to be incorporated in the soon to be finalized WAP
version 1.2, the first batch of services have already been
developed using these
specifications.

What
Exactly Is WAP Services?

WAP services can be any information-, entertainment-, or
e-commerce-related service offered using WAP as a platform and
media to store and deliver the voice, data, or video to mobile
terminals. From a cellular service provider to a newspaper to a
flower vendor, anybody can provide WAP services. All that is to
be done is to host the WAP content or application through
Internet. It is similar to hosting web content. The only
exception here is that the content travels the last mile to a
cellphone. A piece of middleware called WAP gateway, installed
in the mobile service provider’s network, translates the
Internet content into a form that can be received by a cellular
phone.

Though WAP services are
quite new, there are some well-known WAP service providers.
Cellular companies like NTT DoCoMo and Radio Linja already
provide these services in Japan and Sweden respectively. News
agencies like CNN and Reuters also have WAP content that can be
accessed through cellphones. And recently there are number of
WAP portals coming up as well. One of them is Waply.com. Another
is Yahoo! Mobile.

One can access these
services through a local mobile call if the local cellular
service provider has a WAP gateway installed in his network.
Since Indian cellular companies have not yet installed a WAP
gateway, the only way to avail WAP services is by making a
mobile call to a gateway somewhere in Sweden, Germany or
Finland. However, Indian operators are known to be testing out
WAP solutions. It might not be too long for a WAP gateway to be
up and running locally in India.

What Services
Are Available?

The
services available through a WAP phone–apart from voice calls
and e-mails–include access to:

  • Databases
    like hotel guides, restaurant guides, telephone directory,
    recipes, dictionary

  • n Transaction
    services like ticket reservations, mobile banking, purchase
    of consumer goods like books and music CDs, credit card bill
    enquiry

  • Entertainment
    services like karaoke, FM on-air messages, network games,
    and astrology

  • Other
    services like news, weather forecasts, transportation
    information, tourist information Similar WAP services can
    be provided by WAP service providers in India. From current
    train timings to proactive sports scores to reservation of the
    elusive railway ticket, several valued-added services can be
    provided in the Indian scenario. With many of these already in
    HTML it should not be too hard to translate them into Wireless
    Mark-up Language (WML)–a language the microbrowser in the WAP
    phone can understand. The Indian strength in software can come
    handy here.

    When Will WAP
    Services Be Available?

    The speed of WAP deployment will clearly depend on the
    availability of handset devices supporting WAP. Though quantity
    shipment of Nokia 7110 started from middle of last year, it is
    still not available in many regions such as the Indian
    subcontinent. However, shipments to India are expected next
    month. Also other handset manufacturers like Ericsson, Motorola,
    and Alcatel have showcased yet-to-be launched WAP models
    recently.

    The
    other worry is the cost aspect. Since receiving of WAP services
    requires a larger screen size and more memory to accommodate the
    content, it costs more to produce a WAP handset. Until WAP
    services establish considerable volumes, the initial phones are
    expected to cost high.

    The light of hope comes
    from the development of the network-end products. While problems
    persist in the WAP client (the WAP phone), there is already a
    lot of activity on the network side. A number of WAP gateways–the
    middleware which lifts the information from an Internet server,
    processes it, and sends it to the WAP phone–are already
    available in the market.

    The
    WAP Difference

    While
    developing WAP technology, products, and services, the WAP
    Forum took the paradigm of the Web and the wireless
    communications technologies–which it was trying to marry.
    While it tried to inculcate the rich features of the Web, it
    also had to take into account the limitations of wireless
    communications technologies.

    Bandwidth was
    a major issue. GSM, the cellular telephony standard used in
    India, could transmit data at a speed of only 9.6 Kbps.
    Other popular standards like CDMA and DECT also had similar
    speed limitations. Mobility meant that the mobile device had
    to be small enough to fit into a pocket. This put a
    constraint on the size of the display screen. Also the time
    available to browse and surf when one is on the move is
    limited, thus content has to be minimal, simple, and quickly
    accessible.

    WAP utilizes
    the client server philosophy. A WAP session requires a
    mobile phone with a microbrowser in it and a WAP gateway
    connected to the mobile network. The subscriber with the WAP
    phone first dials into the WAP service. Once online, he uses
    the in-built microbrowser to make a request in Wireless
    Mark-up Language (WML), a variant of HTML, developed bearing
    in mind the various characteristics of wireless
    communication, such as the bandwidth limitations and the
    screen size.

    The request
    goes to a WAP gateway, which retrieves the information from
    an Internet server in HTML or WML format. If it is in HTML
    format, a filter in the gateway translates it into WML. This
    gateway then sends this information to the WAP client using
    existing bearer services such as SMS or CSD.

    Some of them like Nokia,
    Phone.com, and Ericsson are giving away WAP toolkits to
    application developers. WAP gateway developers like Nokia and
    Ericsson have signed up several mobile network operators,
    including some in India, to try WAP services and gain market
    feedback.

    Though companies
    developing WAP services still have a long way to go, the initial
    WAP services like e-mail, information guides, and news headline
    services, can be provided using the first series of
    specifications that come with WAP version 1.1. Other advanced
    services will be enabled with future versions of WAP. In fact,
    some proactive cellular service providers like Radio Linja of
    Sweden and Swisscom of Switzerland have already gone ahead with
    their services using WAP version 1.1. Indian operators like
    AirTel, Essar Cellphone, Fascel, and Hutchison Max are known to
    be testing out WAP services. Essar Cellphone is providing Smart
    SMS by using Nokia’s Artus Messaging platform, which can also
    accommodate WAP services. However, the availability of WAP
    services in India will depend largely on market demand and the
    technical feasibility of WAP vis-a-vis the existing cellular
    technologies that the Indian operators use.

    WAP: The
    Personal Tool

    As and when WAP services start and gain maturity, it will enable
    several interesting activities for a mobile person. The modern
    corporate man today spends a lot of time commuting or simply
    waiting. If one has a personal companion such as a cellphone
    with ready access to information and entertainment, this time
    will be spent in a more worthwhile manner. With WAP, the mobile
    phone will compete with the personal computer at home and office
    to conduct routine activities such as banking, ticketing, online
    shopping, and checking for information such as news, weather
    reports, yellow pages, and train/flight/bus schedules. But, on
    the move, the cellphone is likely to rule the roost.

    All said and done, the
    popularization of WAP services will depend on how affordable it
    can get. It would mean several marketing packages and newer
    tariff models. Initially, WAP will be too costly for the
    majority, at least in countries like India. But those who can
    afford it will most likely find it valuable. WAP: The
    Corporate Tool

    WAP could affect a company in two ways–as a new way of
    delivering services or an enabler of the "anytime,
    anywhere" connected workforce. As said earlier, anybody can
    provide WAP services. Today, companies realize the value of
    their customers’ time. The need to reach out to customers
    anywhere and anytime cuts across industries. In this regard,
    companies can have the ultimate medium in wireless connectivity.
    In the case of a popular movie theatre, WAP services would
    provide value to its customers by enabling them to find out the
    current movies through the mobile phone and book a ticket or
    cancel another one. An airlines company could be hosting a WAP
    server that proactively updates the flight schedules round the
    clock informing consumers of any reschedule or delay.

    WAP services can, on the
    other hand, make the internal process of a company more
    efficient and save on expenses by allowing the workforce to
    connect to its intranet from a cellphone, which is much cheaper
    than a laptop. The corporate applications that can be carried
    out through a WAP phone include order entry, product
    availability tracking, deal management, job dispatch, remote
    monitoring, and corporate e-mail.

    The bottomline is that
    while WAP services could initially burn one’s pocket for quite
    some time on the personal level, to a corporation it could mean
    newer revenue streams.

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