WAP (wireless application protocol) is currently the most popular acronym on the IT and telecomms circuit.
In the mindshare stakes, WAP is probably neck and neck with application service provision. While it is always a mistake to follow acronyms, as industries continuously roll them out and make them obsolete, WAP is shaping up to become a de facto standard for transmission of Web pages to handheld devices, including mobile phones. We should be interested because real companies are beginning to introduce WAP services.
But what is WAP? It is a standards-based communications protocol and an application environment for transmitting Internet content and telephony services in digital mobile phones and other wireless handheld devices.
It's a WAP world
WAP fans are many and include application builders, manufacturers, network operators, content providers and application developers. WAP can be built on any operating system. Proper functionality depends on delivery of generic packet radio service, a service which will rack up transmission speeds from the current 9,600bps on a mobile network to 100,000bps. The WAP protocol is based on Internet standards such as HTTP, but has been optimised for the unique constraints of the wireless environment - i.e. the daft screen size.
The latest research indicates that handheld sales are booming in Europe but smartphone sales have been slow to take off. IDC figures show 1.4 million hand-helds were sold in western Europe in 1998, with a value of more than $1bn (£622m). And, according to the Financial Times, only 6,000 mobile phones out of the 24 million in the UK are WAP-enabled. IDC attributed the disappointing sales of smartphones in Europe to the slow rollout of WAP-compliant devices, but it expects sales to rocket next year as they become available from big European vendors.
Work on the move
Application providers will be responsible for most of the activity in the WAP environment. Applications suited to the WAP environment include both consumer and corporate solutions, such as email, corporate data, news, sports and information services. Cynics will argue we can already get Web pages from a PC so don't bother with WAP. But there is much evidence of increased mobility in the world of work.
In 1998, 73 per cent of European corporations were using some kind of mobile data solution, and 91 per cent of those who were not said they would use it in 1999. Also, research from Yankee Group shows there are more than 300 million mobile phone users worldwide, far more than the global Internet population of 205 million.
With an emerging mobile workforce, WAP can improve performance by allowing wireless employees continuous access to corporate intranets and extranets.
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