From: Rohit Khare (email@example.com)
Date: Fri May 19 2000 - 21:02:02 PDT
May 19, 2000
Wondering About WAP
American companies have been slow to adopt the Wireless Application
Protocol. Will it hurt them in the long run?
By Eddie Hold
It's no secret that the U.S. wireless market lags behind its
European counterpart, which has seen runaway growth in the last few
years. One of the key reasons for the success of the European
wireless model is the agreement on one standard, the Global System
for Mobile communications, or GSM. The United States has a more
diverse approach to this growing market: Wireless service providers
choose their own protocol, resulting in an eclectic mix of
incompatible services based on varying agreements.
Now U.S. wireless providers have an opportunity to take a giant leap
forward, overtaking and possibly surpassing Europe. Why? Because the
wireless market is rapidly moving from a voice-only world to one in
which data is becoming more important. This means more people are
seeking Web access - a market dominated by U.S companies.
There's just one problem: While the rest of the world is embracing
the Wireless Application Protocol, commonly known as WAP, which
enables wireless Web access, U.S. companies, questioning whether this
is the best solution, mill about waiting for someone to make the
first move. In truth, WAP probably isn't the best solution, but that
is almost immaterial. The rest of the world has seized on it; U.S.
providers should, too.
Questions about WAP can be boiled down to three concerns: Web
developers would need to learn a new markup language (WML, rather
than HTML); not all WAP sites work; and there are licensing issues
over who owns intellectual property rights to WAP. I'll take them in
* So developers need to learn a new language? Good, they
should. A straight HTML-to-wireless translation would result in
mediocre wireless content. The key is to develop Web services
specific to the wireless world, rather than regurgitations of
standard content. And the best way to stimulate this development is
to force developers to think more about what it takes to make a
wireless application, rather than how easy it is to translate current
applications to the new platform.
* Up to 25 percent of WAP sites do not work properly, according
to some figures. That's no surprise. Many conventional Web sites
suffer from broken links, vanishing graphics or poorly written Java
applets that cause browsers to crash, but few people have suggested
abandoning HTML in the near term. If anything, the prevalence of
poorly written WAP sites is a sign that wireless Internet development
is still in its infancy, and plenty of opportunities exist for good
* The final concern, intellectual property rights, is more
problematic. Since Geoworks (GWRX) , an Alameda, Calif.-based
wireless company, first staked its claim to key components of WAP and
launched a licensing program, the U.S. market has been forced to
tread carefully. The licensing deal affects any company with revenues
in excess of $1 million that implements a WAP server. Phone.com
(PHCM) of Redwood City, Calif., is already contesting Geoworks' claim
in court. As a result, U.S. wireless service providers are reluctant
to switch to next-generation WAP services. This could stymie the
development of U.S.-centric WAP services.
Since Geoworks holds no patents covering European countries, the
European service providers don't face the same legal or financial
concerns when they implement WAP services. And since they recognize
that the next 12 months will be critical for developing strong
wireless Web services that could loosen America's hold over the Web,
they are busy building out WAP services.
In the meantime, some U.S. companies are considering alternatives to
WAP, such as HTML- or XML-based wireless services. The upshot could
be yet another round of incompatible wireless services, this time
dividing providers based on wireless Web access as well as voice
access. Such a division could cripple wireless Web development in the
Eddie Hold is principal analyst for wireless services at Current Analysis.
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