Is WAP Really a Standard?
WAP incompatibility issues evident at Telecom 99
Andy Dornan, Data Communications
WAP (Wireless Application Protocol) is everywhere at Telecom 99:
every phone vendor seems to have a WAP-enabled handset about to ship,
and cellular carriers are scrambling to announce partnerships with
content providers. But the diversity of products has led to
interoperability problems here on the show floor, with some vendors
phones not working other vendors' services.
"There's nothing concrete: WAP 1.1 leaves room for interpretation,"
admits Rowland Savage, WAP Delivery Manager at APiON Ltd. (Belfast,
Northern Ireland, stand 7061.016, Ireland Pavilion), the company who
produced the first WAP gateway --- the device that serves WAP pages
to mobile phones. Each gateway needs to be tested with each
microbrowser, the software inside a phone which displays pages
written in WML (Wireless Markup Language), and adapted to fit every
upgrade. For example, APiON's gateway only works with Nokia's and
Ericsson's, not Phone.com's, which is used by Motorola.
The situation rivals the PC "browser wars" between Netscape and
Microsoft, because there are so many variants of microbrowser
platforms. Nokia Corp. (Espoo, Finland) and Ericssson LM (Stockholm,
Sweden), the two largest mobile phone manufacturers, have each
developed their own, as have smaller players such as Samsung Corp.
(Seoul, South Korea). The only cross-platform microbrowser is made by
Phone.com Inc. (Redwood City, Calif.), and used by Motorola Inc.
(Schaumburg, Illinois). And while PC users are free to load whatever
software they choose, microbrowsers are embedded into circuitry.
"Some accept firmware upgrades for future versions of WAP, but a
Motorola phone can't use a Nokia browser," Savage explains.
This isn't just an issue of prototype problems: Sonera Ltd.
(Helsinki, Finland) launched the first commercial WAP services last
month, based on Apion's gateway --- which despite the compatibility
problems, they thought was the best available. Until the vendors can
sort out the interoperability issue, the Sonera service is
effectively barred to users of the Phone.com browser.