WAP: Where Are (the) Phones?

VoicenData Bureau
New Update


rhetoric about WAP has finall given way to the reality as

mobile network operators have realized that there is little

money to be made or competitive advantage to be gained from

WAP today. Everyone (and we mean everyone) is doing it, but

very few are doing it with any impact or innovation

(everyone is doing the same tired services we have seen

before and all through Internet portals).


Somehow WAP, a mere

protocol, a means to an end, got elevated into an end in

itself. Many IT companies, financial analysts, advertising

agencies and Web design agencies were sucked into the whole

full mobile Internet access myth. The lessons from WAP do

not bode well for the mobile data revolution that we all

anticipate. Lots of people have been misled and lots of

claims have been exaggerated but no real damage has been

done. We will get to the mobile Internet but need to be

honest in making people clear of the current limitations of

mobile devices.

The mobile

communications industry itself should have known better, but

then, data is a new thing and everyone was looking for a way

to make it successful to get circuit-switched data traffic

up and make information services a success finally. Some

pundits are joking that the WAP should rather be renamed

"Where Are (the) Phones" Network operators and

retailers are finding it hard to get large volumes of

working WAP phones.

Unfortunately, mention

of customers has been neglected in the whole WAP story–the

phones, tariffs, service configuration and provisioning,

service access and all other elements of the value chain

have been disregarded. For example:

  • It

    is difficult to configure WAP phones for new WAP

    services, with 20 or so different parameters needed to

    be entered to gain access to a WAP service. Only the

    Nokia 7110 can be programmed over the air to take the

    burden of such service configuration away from the user.

    This raises the issue of the operator providing adequate

    support to their WAP service subscribers. Many operators

    are working with phone manufacturers to receive their

    WAP phones with their WAP gateway settings


  • WAP

    is a protocol that runs on top of an underlying bearer.

    None of the existing GSM bearers for WAP–Short Message

    Service (SMS), Unstructured Supplementary Services Data

    (USSD) and Circuit Switched Data (CSD) are optimized for

    WAP. The forthcoming General Packet Radio Service (GPRS),

    with its immediacy and packet transport and new

    tariffing models, is a more ideal bearer. The TDMA

    standards body designed a new bearer called GUTS,

    especially for use with WAP services.

  • WAP

    services are expected to be expensive to use since the

    tendency is to be online for a long CSD call since

    features such as interactivity and selection of more

    information are used by the end -user. It takes several

    short messages to send one piece of information through

    WAP. Without specific tariff initiatives, there are

    likely to be some "bill-shocked" and surprised

    WAP users when they see their mobile phone bill for the

    first time after starting to use WAP, even if their user

    experience was good.

  • The

    WAP standard has just become more complete, with key

    elements such as push (proactive sending of information

    to mobile devices) and wireless telephony (updating

    address reports and the like) now being addressed by the

    recently released WAP 1.2 specifications. However, most

    of the current products are based on the old WAP 1.1

    specifications. These products have to now incorporate

    them. Implementation of it is at least a few months

    away. Meanwhile, proprietary push protocols from the

    likes of could complicate implementation of


  • There

    are many WAP gateway vendors out there competing against

    each other with largely the same standardized product.

    This has led to consolidation such as

    acquiring APiON,, and Paragon Software. With

    other biggies like IBM, Microsoft, Sun, HP, and Cisco

    eyeing the WAP solutions market, further M&As could

    likely be the order of the day.

  • Other

    protocols such as SIM Application Toolkit and Mobile

    Station Application Execution Environment (MExE) are

    respectively already widely supported or designed to

    supercede WAP. It will be interesting to see how all

    these protocols handle convergence with W3C’s new open

    Internet standard, XML.

It might have been

better to wait until WAP 1.2 and GPRS are implemented before

launching WAP services commercially. Plans for updating the

WAP 1.1 phones that are now being sold, to WAP 1.2 are

unclear. Have these issues even been considered? We think we

know why customers have been ignored by the WAP Forum having

attended the proceedings at the WAP Forum’s meeting in

London in the summer of 1999. The WAP Forum is divided into

"Experts" Groups who sit around and discuss arcane

technical details in mind numbing detail. You might think

that the Marketing Experts Group would be interested in

customers and keeping the proceedings customer centric but

no, it turns out that all they are interested in is how many

press articles have been written about WAP. We did not hear

the word "customer" once during the proceedings.

We certainly think

that WAP will be important to enable the smooth transition

from one bearer to another such as the migration of existing

applications to GPRS. We are certainly at crossroads in

mobile communications as we move from voice to non-voice

centric services. We have a lot to learn from WAP and other

services. Within 18 months, all new mobile phones will

support WAP, but how many subscribers will there be?



founder and CEO, Mobile Lifestreams.