The much hyped technology that promises to bring Internet services to your mobile phone is late to the UK because vendors cannot meet the demand for products.
Orange planned to launch its first services using wireless application protocol (Wap) technology last month, but Nokia, which is providing the Wap enabled handsets for Orange, is struggling to manufacture enough of them to allow vendors to meet launch dates for new products and services.
Demand for Wap phones has been driven by a level of hype high even for the mobile phone industry. But analysts say some users may find initial offerings lack many of the advanced features they are expecting.
Nokia was first to market with a Wap enabled phone, the Nokia 7110, in September. Ericsson and Motorola are close behind with handsets and Ericsson has a Wap enabled PDA device. But Nokia claims it is bearing the brunt of the high initial demand.
"The whole demand is being put on Nokia and Ericsson - it's a matter of balancing demand and supply. We're happy to be experiencing that demand, but it's understandable that there are customers who have been waiting for a long time and that's unfortunate," said Ilkka Raiskinen, vice president of business development in Europe, Nokia.
David Stoneham, UK spokesman for Nokia, claimed it is not manufacturing delays that have caused the problems, it is that Nokia has not yet increased production sufficiently.
"Deliveries will come more and more each week. With this production ramp up happening we're confident that supply will be met," said Stoneham.
Tim Sheedy, telecoms analyst at IDC, said people are starting to realise that Wap isn't the perfect solution.
"But we have to realise at this stage it is the only solution. What else is out there?" he said.
"Wap will be successful, there's no doubt about it, but there are limitations. Wap was promised as a technology that would deliver the Web to a mobile phone - the marketing hype got too much," said Sheedy.
Sheedy said questions remain about Wap's security, the lack of a built in location system and no audio or video support. Some of these functions are expected in the next version of Wap, 1.2.
Wap will get a big boost from the introduction of a high speed mobile data system next year - general packet radio service (GPRS) - which will make data transfer to mobile phones faster.
"A lot of what people are talking about going forward - more advanced ecommerce functions and graphics - I don't see that happening until GPRS is commonly used," said Sheedy.
IDC forecasts that there will be 7.5 million Wap subscribers in Europe by the end of 2000, rising to 29.5 million by the end of 2003.
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