Working with Wireless Application Protocol (WAP) (Part 1)

In the Wireless & Mobile UPDATE newsletter, we aim to give you the latest information about wireless technology, market status and changes, and practical overviews for implementation. This technical column initiates a series of articles to be published here.

First, let me introduce myself. I'm Steve Milroy, a Wireless Technologist. I currently work for a nationwide e-solutions company, on a number of Wireless Application Protocol (WAP), VoiceXML, and wireless middleware projects.

Until late 2000, real WAP services and devices didn't exist in the US market. Instead, pre-WAP Handheld Device Markup Language (HDML) and the associated UP.Link gateways served the mobile Internet market. Pre-WAP HDML resembles WAP but contains proprietary protocols developed by (now Openwave Systems). WAP provides a standardized way to develop applications for many types of wireless devices, including smart phones, wireless Personal Digital Assistants (PDAs), and some pagers.

WAP, a set of protocol standards that closely resembles traditional Internet protocols, such as HTTP and Secure Sockets Layer (SSL), covers Open System Interconnection (OSI) layers 3 through 7. By design, WAP protocols suit the inherent low bandwidth and high latency of wireless networks. Wireless networks include Global System for Mobile Communication (GSM), Code Division Multiple Access (CDMA), Time Division Multiple Access (TDMA), Cellular Digital Packet Data (CDPD), General Packet Radio System (GPRS), Integrated Digital Enhanced Network (iDEN), and—in the future—various third-generation wireless technologies. WAP doesn't depend on the bearing wireless network, and applications using WAP work on all networks with appropriate devices. WAP also provides an environment to deliver wireless applications optimized for the small display size, low memory, limited input capability, and processing power of wireless devices.

Don't expect to use your WAP-equipped cell phone for serious Web surfing, despite US TV advertisements for wireless Web services. WAP-based applications can't replace or simulate the functionality of desktops or laptops. Instead, they complement those machines by providing data access anywhere, anytime. With WAP applications, users can access targeted, time-sensitive information (and, in the future, location-specific data as well) whenever necessary. For example, business users will appreciate using WAP and wireless technology for wireless email and collaboration, sales force automation (SFA), field-force automation, and customer-relationship management (CRM). The following WAP products and services have been available in the US market since late 2000.

  • VoiceStream's WebStream service works with the Motorola Timeport p7389 and soon will work with Nokia's 7190 WAP phone. This service uses circuit-switched GSM 1900 for wireless Internet access. Voicestream bills use on a per-minute basis as part of the monthly calling-plan minutes.

  • Nextel's Wireless Web service requires the most recent Nextel Plus phones. Nextel recently upgraded its UP.Link gateway to version 4, making it a true WAP environment, although nearly all the deployed phones are still pre-WAP. This service uses packet-switched iDEN for wireless Web access. Nextel charges a flat rate per month with no limit on use.

  • Cingular/SWBell Wireless's My Wireless Window service uses the Motorola T2282, V2282, and V3682 along with Nokia's 7160 and circuit-switched TDMA for wireless Internet access. Use e is billed per minute as part of the monthly calling-plan minutes.

As of January 2001, several communications giants remained mired in pre-WAP HDML technology: AT&T Wireless Service's PocketNet, SprintPCS Wireless Web (although the company has stated intentions to move to UP.Link V4), and Verizon's Mobile Web. Although Wireless Markup Language (WML) applications can be deployed through these carriers, the applications lack some functionality (e.g., WMLScript) found in WAP1.1 devices.

During 2001, many WAP1.1 compatible devices and services will launch in the US market. WAP's worldwide standardization and popularity, particularly in Europe and Asia, make it increasingly useful in the world marketplace. For more detailed information about WAP, visit the WAP Forum.

In the next Wireless & Mobile UPDATE, I'll examine WAP more closely and discuss aspects of developing WML applications.

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