WAP is here, long live the WAP

CIOL Bureau
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Consider this: You are riding your car on the highway when all of a sudden,

from nowhere, appears a van in front of you asking you to stop. A man comes out

and introduces himself as a representative of the tyre dealer whose products you

have on your car. He informs you that one of the back tyres of your car is

damaged and may go off any moment. He replaces the tyre with the one he has

brought along and you cruise ahead in your journey.


This story is not from a futuristic James Bond movie, but a real scenario

that you will experience in perhaps the next two-three years — courtesy

Wireless Access Protocol (WAP) technology.

How did the car dealer learn about the possible damage to the car tyre?

Various parts of the car are fitted with what is called WAP servers. These

servers detect any possible defect that the parts may face beforehand. The WAP

server connects to the Internet and finds the Web site, which will be able to

give the information on the way the relevant part could be repaired or replaced.

The server alerts the Web site on the potential damage to the car part, along

with information on the geographical location of the car. The Web site sends a

message to the nearest dealer, who in turn arranges for the repair.

According to a study, there will be more than 530 million wireless

subscribers by 2001 and will break the one-billion mark by 2004. A significant

number of these subscribers are expected to use their cellphones for more

applications than just make and receive calls. And, these applications will all

invariably be through the Internet.


It was in 1997 that a small company, Unwired Planet (now known as

released a technology that allows cellphones to connect to Web sites and receive

the contents. In June 1997, joined hands with cellphone giants

Ericsson, Motorola and Nokia to device a common protocol for building

applications that will offer more and more services on the cellphone and other

mobile devices through the Net. Since then, the organisation, called WAP Forum

has drafted a global wireless protocol specification for all wireless networks,

which is being followed by all those who are connected in developing software

for the purpose.

Today, not just the cellphone manufacturers, but cellular network operators,

Internet Service Providers and software developers are all members of the WAP

Forum. Its because, WAP is expected to be the biggest revolution on the Internet

in the coming years. Every player in the IT and telecom industry worth its salt

expects some pie in this market, whose potential for growth is immense.

WAP Forum produces open standards so that all the segments, namely the WAP

device manufacturers, the cellular operators, the ISPs and the software

application developers, all offer compatible solutions. WAP Forum is also

working with the Internet monitoring authorities such as W3C to provide

standards that are compatible to the latest Internet protocols, such as HTTP-NG

(next generation).


Applications can be developed using one standard that will work across a

variety of networks. The WAP Forum specifies that by making minimal demands on

the air interface itself, the WAP specification can operate on the widest number

of air interfaces. It defines a protocol stack that can operate on high latency,

low bandwidth networks such as Short Messaging Service or GSM Unstructured

Supplementary Service Data (USSD) channel," points out WAP Forum.

How is WAP expected to change the way we use mobile devices? We are used to

accessing the Net either on our PCs or on a laptop. Of course, you have also got

your set top box that allows you to connect to the Net through your TV. But, as

the mobile market matured, the handsets manufacturers felt a need to offer Net

access on their devices too. WAP was the result of a coordinated effort of the

industry players.

While on the one hand, cellular operators and hand-held manufacturers are

busy offering the subscribers with WAP devices and services, hundreds of Web

sites are busy in converting the relevant information on their sites from HTML

to Wireless Markup Language (WML), a language understood by the WML devices.

According to Integra Micro Systems managing director Mahesh Kumar Jain, this is

one area, which could be equivalent to the Y2K projects for India. "The

conversion is simple, but it takes time and needs some intelligence. There will

emerge a huge market for Indians here, considering that there are millions of

Web sites out there," he said.


Push technology may have died in the earlier phase of Internet era. However,

with the advent of WAP technology, players are heard using the word again. They

feel that while subscribers can pull information from the Net on to their WAP

devices, there can a millions of information that can be pushed on to these

devices, to which they cannot say no.

The service that is expected to become the most successful on WAP mobile

phones is live stock quotes. A subscriber can go to a Web site through his WAP

enabled mobile phone and ask for services, which will sound her off when her

favourite scrip jumps the cut-off mark, as defined by her. The subscriber could

even program it to automatically send a buy/sell order to her broker when the

scrip crosses the mark.

Indsutry watchers believe that WAP technology could even change the way both

Net and cellular operators function today. One possibility is that a dotcom

company, which offers many services to the WAP subscriber, may buy air time in

bulk from a cellular operator, which could be given free to the subscribers for

accessing its Net service.

One should not be surprised in the near future to hear the news of a mighty

cellular operator being taken over by a relatively nascent dotcom company. This

could be possible as the volume of air time used for accessing the Net becomes

comparable to that used for normal talking. Another reason for the growth of WAP

devices is low cost. A WAP enabled mobile phone is only marginally costlier

today to that of a normal cellphone. The prices will only drop in the future.

Today, in Indian gray market, one can buy a Nokia WAP phone for as little as Rs

26,000. Who knows, in the near future, cellular operators (or it could be dotcom

companies) could offer the phone free to their subscribers.

India is gearing up to face the WAP revolution, which is expected in the next

few months. Two Indian software firms (Integra Micro Systems and Silicon

Automation Systems) have released their WAP server products. Many more are

expected in the market during the next few months. Nokia is expected to launch

its WAP phones in the country in March, while some of the cellular operators are

in the process of offering WAP services to their subscribers. According to

sources in Bharti Telecom (which also owns the JTM services in Bangalore), a

design strategy to implement WAP services is already in place and the same would

be introduced shortly.