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What does WAP stand for?
Wireless Application Protocol.

What is WAP?

WAP is a 3rd generation wireless technology that enables users to access and interact with information and services on WAP enabled devices such as mobile phones and palm pilot computers.

Who developed WAP?

WAP was designed and is owned by a consortium of industry vendors such as Ericsson, Nokia, Motorola and many others. Information about the protocol and development can be found at

Why was WAP developed?

Wireless Application Protocol (WAP) was developed in order to meet the increasing demand for mobility, enabling customers and employees to access information and transact wherever they are.

What are the forecasts for the use of WAP devices?

Conservative estimates indicate that there will be 1 billion phone users by 2005, and a substantial proportion will have multimedia capabilities.

What are the applications for WAP?

The applications are widespread for the corporate and the consumer. On the consumer side, the technology will enable us to use our time more effectively by facilitating wireless retailing, banking and information retrieval such as weather, traffic and news.

On the corporate side the applications such as mobile intra and extranets will enable employees and business partners to access data in a cost and time efficient manner, thus improving employee productivity and therefore overall business performance.

However, the underlying advantage for businesses is the constant availability of their services, which will be the key to commercial competitiveness in the long-term.

What are the corporate applications?

Offer existing services on a global 24/7 basis.
Create innovative new services for consumers.
Easily integrate from Web tools to WAP tools.
Provide wireless access to contact management, order entry, product availability enabling faster decision making and superior business performance.

What are the corporate benefits?

Increases employee productivity.
Improves business performance though continuous mobile access to corporate intra and extranets.

What are the benefits to the consumer?

Time is saved in paying bills
Buy tickets
Manage agendas
Check travel times
Read the latest news
Check bank balances
Transfer monies between accounts
Send and receive e-mails
For comprehensive technical information concerning WAP and wireless development use the following links: or

Is WAP secure?

Yes. WAP includes a specification called WTLS which implements options for authentication and encryption and is optimised for use in the mobile environment

Will WAP comply with Third Generation wireless standards?

Yes, WAP has been designed to be as independent as possible from the underlying network technology.

Which wireless networks does WAP work with?

WAP is designed to work with most wireless networks such as CDPD, CDMA, GSM, PDC, PHS, TDMA, FLEX, ReFLEX, iDEN, TETRA, DECT, DataTAC, Mobitex

What operating systems are compatible with WAP?

WAP is a communications protocol and an application environment. It can be built on any operating system including PalmOS, EPOC, Windows CE, FLEXOS, OS/9, JavaOS etc. It provides service interoperability even between different device families.

WAP Facts

WAP is a protocol that is designed to display Web-based information (primarily text, at least today) on wireless devices; today it is used mainly on mobile phones. WAP supports a programming language called Wireless Markup Language (WML), which is based on HTML. As such, WAP and WML are designed to be optimized for phones in a number of ways: low bandwidth, low power consumption, support for small screen size, low latency (more on this below), and universal connectivity (multiple locations). WAP and WML are also designed to be easily personalized, since users don't have the time, battery power, or screen real estate to view information that is not pertinent to them specifically. WAP phones themselves are designed to be simple and easy to use. They use microbrowsers (in the study's case, both were WAP 1.1 compliant) to view and manipulate content.

Interestingly, the report states that the two most widely used WAP phones, which were the phones used in the study (the Ericsson R320s and the Nokia 7110e), are well designed and had little to do with WAP's deficiencies. The authors note that this is good news for phone makers but not for WAP developers; it means that WAP problems cannot be solved simply with a phone redesign. In a depressingly comic aside that says much about WAP as a mobile phone-based technology, the report says that "the main problem with the WAP phones was not their design but the very fact that they are telephones."

The report goes on to note what many observers (including this one) have been saying for some time: WAP is simply unsuited to mobile phones, with their miniscule screen size and lack of direct manipulation of data choices (such as with a stylus). WAP on a PDA is likely to offer a somewhat more rewarding experience.

WAP Service Usability

The vast majority of users in the study had a very negative impression of WAP. The most disliked feature of WAP, not surprisingly, was the slow throughput of data (Figure 1). Users also complained about the lack of depth and the uneven quality of the data itself. Even when reporting on the feature that most liked best--the ability to get news headlines--users were still unhappy with the quality of the data they got. In addition, users noticed very little differentiation of services; that is, information from very different sources looked and sounded the same. The report noted that this is probably due to the constraints on data size in WAP--headlines tend to sound the same when a limited number of works can be used. The phenomenon is completely contrary to the Web, where the same information can be packaged in any number of unique and interesting ways.

In addition to poor throughput, the report states that users consistently experienced an inability to connect to sites, and experienced numerous, repeated dropped connections. Even when users were able to complete a specific task, it often took multiple tries, which resulted in significant frustration. Users also encountered server errors, time-outs while waiting for downloads, and long delays while information loaded, only to then result in zero data. Figure 2 illustrates the various tasks users were asked to perform and their success rates and times. Because WAP is a circuit-switched technology, it is not always on. When a different site is requested, the phone must reconnect each time (the phone dials a phone number that brings up the site.) Nielsen likens the painfully slow connection process to a modem that has to dial and re-negotiate every time a new Web site is requested.

The report also makes clear that WAP has a long, long way to go to replicate many of the most basic tasks that Web suffers take for granted. For instance, using a browser's "back" button is second nature for most people, and is a critical Web browsing function, since it's easy to go down the wrong path in search of information. Ramsey and Nielsen found that the "back" command on WAP phones was a disaster. Often, previous page information was not cached, as it is on a PC, so users had to take the time to re-connect to a WAP server to retrace their steps (and connecting, as noted, was unreliable). In other cases, because of memory limitations, users could only go back a few pages before their page history was lost, forcing them to start over.

Users also had major trouble searching; many even had trouble locating a search engine at all, though six WAP-enabled search engines were on the Web when the report was written. Search results were difficult to navigate, and often even the most common of terms came back with virtually zero hits. (One user searched for "cat" and got one hit.) But again, more sites and better search engines are likely to be available as WAP catches on. The real problem was the time it took for searches to be completed: many minutes, sometimes with dropped connections. Weather forecasts presented a similar problem. Even after a week of using the WAP phones, only 30 percent of users were able to get reports of the evening weather in their areas. Travel information, theoretically a potential goldmine for both WAP users and service providers, brought yet another failure. The majority of users (65 percent) were unable to find any travel information at all. Five out of twenty users found some travel-related information, but it took' three to four minutes on average to find it.

Much has been written about WAP's ability to enable financial transactions on wireless devices. Ramsey and Nielsen asked their users to perform some very basic finance-related operations. Predictably, users failed miserably. Forget about buying and selling stocks; users were often unable to reliably get even a single stock quote, much less any in-depth financial information. One user spent more than two minutes trying to get a single quote, even though he had already bookmarked the page and had been using the WAP phone for four days. Another was repeatedly foiled by server errors. (Keep in mind also that all users were paying per-minute charges for the use of WAP services.)

Hardware Problems

While users surveyed in the study had few major complaints about the phones they were given, one question brought telling responses. When asked if "the phone's limited screen size would prevent you from using WAP in the future?" the vast majority of users either agreed or strongly agreed. These responses lead one to question the potential for success of any WAP telephone at all, since screen sizes are severely limited and not likely to get much larger--at least in a mobile phone form factor. This suggests that developers might be better off concentrating their energies on PDAs and other devices with larger footprints and screens.

Unfortunately, the survey offers little when it comes to explaining the reasons behind the low levels of satisfaction with WAP in Britain. For example, we do not know if dropped connections were due to gateway server failures or interference, or to poorly configured WML data or WML servers on the Internet. We also don't know if the lack of page caching was due to lack of phone memory, bad phone design, lack of capability of the gateway server (where data is suppose to be cached) or some combination. Ramsey and Nielsen studied only two WAP service providers in the U.K., BT Cellnet and Orange. Vodaphone, ...

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