Empowerment or stop-gap?

The big phone companies are backing Wap, but it could be obsolete within two years, writes Nick Langley What is it?

The big phone companies are backing Wap, but it could be obsolete within two years, writes Nick Langley What is it?

Industry association the Wap Forum describes Wireless Application Protocol as "an open, global specification that empowers mobile users with wireless devices to easily access and interact with information and services instantly". Essentially, this means access to the Internet from devices such as mobile phones, pagers and personal digital assistants.

A less positive view is that Wap is a stop-gap that will be redundant as soon as true third-generation mobile devices based on high-speed, high-bandwidth technologies come on to the market -

Where did it originate?

With a group of mobile telephone and PDA manufacturers, and content and service providers including Ericsson, Motorola, Nokia, Palm Computing, Psion, BT Cellnet, One2One, Orange, Vodafone and various banks and media organisations. The Wap Forum now includes well over 200 companies, representing more than 90% of the global handset market and carriers with 100 million subscribers.

What's it for?

Wap is both a communications protocol and an application environment. It provides connectivity with information services and other users - which the Wap Forum assures us is fast, interactive and secure.

The small screens, limited memory and low bandwidth of handheld devices mean that standard HTML Web content cannot be displayed effectively, and it is not easy to navigate around the Web with one hand. Wap uses a cut-down Internet browser, or microbrowser, such as the Wap-compatible Microsoft Mobile Explorer.

What makes it special?

People are already used to the idea of going online to do their banking, get the sports results, book tickets or consult a timetable, and they want the same access when travelling as they have at home or the office. The equipment and service providers scent a huge market.

The Wap Forum estimates that there will be more than 100 million wireless devices in use by the end of this year. In addition, the number of mobile phone users will soon comfortably exceed the number of PC owners.

How difficult is it?

The Wireless Markup Language, WML, is a fully compliant subset of XML, optimised for the limited memory, screen and bandwidth of wireless devices.

WMLScript is similar to Javascript. The Wap Forum claims that little effort is involved in extending tools, services and applications to Wap.

Where is it used?

In restaurants, on trains and street corners, and anywhere else you see people walking along talking loudly to their shoulders.

Not to be confused with

The Burger King Whopper burger.

Any acronym beginning with Windows, although with Windows CE already available and Microsoft Mobile Explorer due to ship soon, Windows-based applications can be expected to dominate Wap traffic.

What does it run on?

Wap applications can be built on any mobile device operating system, including PalmOS, Epoc, Windows CE and JavaOS.

Few people know that

Wappered is a dialect word meaning fatigued. Wapper-jawed means having a projecting under-jaw - from spending too much time with a mobile phone wedged under your chin no doubt.

What's coming up?

Work is in progress on end-to-end security, smartcard and billing interfaces, persistent storage, push technology and support for multimedia mobile services. The Wap Forum believes that Wap will continue to thrive and evolve when third-generation mobile networks arrive. Others say Wap could be obsolete within two years.

Rates of pay

On 10 April, a Wap search on www.computerweekly. com listed 174 jobs. Skills and salaries ranged from £25,000 for integration testers working with Wap based in London to £65,000 for London-based Wap and WML developers.


Find out more about developing applications using WML and WMLScript by visiting the Wap Forum Web site, or contacting the manufacturers, service providers and content providers listed in the Wap product and service guide, accessible from the same site.

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