WAP: The next generation

The WAP Forum, standard bearer of the Wireless Application Protocol, this month brought out the WAP 2.0 specifications for public review. Also called WAP NG (Next Generation), this latest incarnation of the protocol for providing Internet-based data services on mobile phones completes a migration to XHTML (Extensible Hypertext Markup Language) and TCP (Transmission Control Protocol) as the foundation of the technology. WAP 2.0 should make it easier for developers to write WAP applications, said Scott Goldman, the Forum's CEO.

"The new specification is a significant milestone towards the WAP Forum's goal to bring a richer experience to users of mobile phones and other wireless devices," Goldman said. "WAP 2.0 provides all companies in the wireless value chain with a bridge to the mobile Internet's true potential.

WAP 2.0 is an open and interoperable standard based on Wireless Markup Language (WML) and Handheld Device Markup Language (HDML). WML is a subset of eXtensible Markup Language (XML) developed by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C). This new version also supports Cascading Style Sheets (CSS), and it updates its Push Access Protocol, which delivers information from servers to nomadic devices. It also includes the first release of Multimedia Messaging Services (MMS), a service developed jointly with 3GPP, which allows users to send multimedia messages that combine sounds with images and text.

WAP has been labeled a transitional technology because of its slow performance and rudimentary display, but wireless industry watchers at Scottsdale, AZ-based Cahners In-Stat Group see it as a vital technology, even for the upcoming age of third-generation (3G) wireless communications. 3G is expected to deliver high-speed multimedia data and voice.

Becky Diercks, director of wireless research at Cahners, describes WAP 2.0 as "a significant evolutionary step towards the introduction of advanced mobile Internet services. The evolution of WNL 2.0, WAPs markup language, to an XHTML architecture incorporating CSS allows the developer community to easily deliver applications that will capitalize on a broad set of supported features that will enhance the user experience."

The performance of earlier versions of WAP was disappointing and hindered adoption, Diercks writes in a recent Cahners report, and the introduction of this version of WAP was "mandatory for it to gain traction in the market. Carriers have significant investments in the WAP architecture," and In-Stat WAP services will have to coexist in the future with other Internet-based services, such as those built on Qualcomm's BREW and Sun's J2ME technology."

The Cahners group projects that the number of wireless Internet subscribers will grow from 30 million in 2000 to 742 million by the end of 2005.

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About the Author

John K. Waters is a freelance writer based in Silicon Valley. He can be reached at [email protected].