WAP 2.0: WAP for 3G
By Joachim Bamrud, Mon Aug 13 00:00:00 GMT 2001
WAP 2.0 will make it easier for developers to produce WAP sites for next-generation technologies like GPRS and UMTS. Increased security, MMS and a universal markup-language are key to the new standard.
Martin Hunt is looking forward to the implementation of WAP 2.0, the new standard just released by the industry group WAP Forum.
"The benefit to us will be the ability to push alerts to our customers much easier once it is implemented and as long as the user has a compatible phone," says Hunt, operations manager of WAPaResult, a UK-based sports site that boasts three million hits a month.
WAPaResult already offers so called Push technology (enabling a content provider or operator to initiate a session with a consumer) through its two-month old SMS service.
Hunt is not alone. Across Europe, Asia and the United States, the wireless community of content providers, developers, telecom operators and equipment producers are now awaiting the launch of the new WAP standard.
After much criticism of its original standards, WAP may now finally be redeemed, some industry experts say.
"WAP has [so far] been like text TV on your phone," says John Strand of Denmark-based Strand Consult, a leading consultancy specializing in WAP. "WAP 2.0 offers fantastic opportunities."
The new standard includes more than 40 different specifications for applications, ranging from security and improved menu capabilities to color, graphics and multimedia messaging.
"In short, a richer, more robust and user-friendly experience accessing the web from the mobile devices," says Strand.
The WAP standards were originally developed by phone producers Ericsson, Motorola, Nokia and software company Openwave in an effort to ensure efficient development of the wireless Internet technology and avoid costly problems of non-connectivity between rivaling devices and operators.
While that goal has largely succeeded, WAP has suffered from problems that included delayed handsets and consumer disappointments over the differences from the fixed, PC-version of the Internet.
The combination of higher-speed access and applications included in WAP 2.0 should spur more consumer demand, industry officials hope.
WAP 2.0, like its predecessors, includes specifications for applications that either have already been released or will be released in the future. But it's mainly seen as a forward-looking standard and already nicknamed WAP-NG (Next Generation) for including many next-generation applications such as Multimedia Messaging (MMS).
MMS, which will enable video, music and other streaming data to be sent through mobile devices, is not expected to be implemented in large volume until 3G devices reach the market.
"The next version of messaging will be enhanced messaging (EMS). So MMS is looking to the future," says Becky Diercks, director of wireless research at Cahners In-Stat Group, a U.S. market research group. However, it's important that such a technology be supported by standards coming out now, she says.
The new standards also support color, graphics and animation, which have been key to the success of i-mode in Japan, the world's largest wireless Internet service.
So far, only Japan has sold a wide selection of mobile Internet phones with color browsers. The first phone to include a color screen in the United States, the Sanyo SCP-5000, was launched only recently.
WAP 2.0 also includes specifications for pop-up menus and context-sensitive menus, which are expected to make the user experience more rewarding, as they have on the fixed Internet.
One of the key elements in WAP 2.0 is that the markup language for developers - the codes used for writing and developing WAP sites - will go from today's wireless markup language (WML) to extensible hypertext markup language (XHTML). That's the same markup language that developers will be using for traditional Internet sites in the future.
"That's extremely important," says Diercks. "You will have the same standards as for PC developers."
Today, web developers use HTML. That means that creating web and WAP sites require two different languages. Although creating a relatively advanced WAP site can take as little as eight hours for an experienced developer of web sites, many companies with Internet sites have yet to launch WAP sites, partly due to the additional language required. As a result, only a fraction of the data on the traditional Internet is available on WAP.
With the fixed and wireless Internet using the same language, mobile users will be able to access the full Internet, not just specially formatted WAP sites.
"By narrowing the gap between wired and wireless content, XHTML greatly accelerates the pace at which services can be created and improves the usability of wireless services for consumers," says a joint statement from Ericsson, Motorola and Nokia in connection with the WAP 2.0. release.
While that clearly expands the wireless Internet offer, it's not necessarily a complete bonus. Today, for example, mobile devices with web clipping capability (such as the Palm PDA's or SmartPhones) offer access to web sites that appear somewhat stranger on those devices than they would on a PC.
XHTML will also narrow the gap between WML and compact HTML, the language used to develop i-mode sites in Japan. This will make it easier for content providers to develop sites for the hugely successful Japanese market as well as the U.S. and European markets, although unique cultural and commercial factors may limit the degree that that will happen, analysts points out.
WAP 2.0 also includes Cascading Style Sheets (CSS). "The benefit of CSS is a more uniform look and feel, a more professional looking web page," says David C. Rudd, a spokesman for Motorola's Internet software and content group.
Additionally, application developers have an increased ability to release the WML information on a variety of devices, he points out.
While security on the wireless Net has been considered relatively good, the current WAP standard does not provide end-to-end encryption. That means that there's a non-secure window when data is temporarily decrypted before it reaches the WAP gateway. WAP 2.0. fills the gap. The new standard provides, for the first time, public key infrastructure (PKI) and an advanced version of wireless Wireless Transport Layer Security (WTLS), which incorporates additional features such as datagram support, optimized handshake and dynamic key refreshing.
The enhanced security should help mobile commerce, but won't necessarily be enough in itself, analysts say.
"There will be a period before people will trust fully the technology," says Diercks. "I don't believe [WAP 2.0] alone will cause a surge in m-commerce."
Although the previous standard included Push, WAP 2.0 includes a more advanced version. Combined with location-based technology and MMS, Push is expected to provide significant potential for advertisers and content providers.
One of the key differences between the fixed Internet through PCs and the mobile ones through wireless devices is the ability to quickly call phone numbers on the screen. Several WAP sites currently offer this ability, while many others don't.
WAP 2.0 includes the standard for such services, wireless telephony application (WTA), as did earlier WAP versions. But it is unclear to which degree that alone will help spur any further usage, Rudd and other industry sources say.
"The benefit of the number call is for revenue models based on call center calls," says Hunt of WAPaResult. "This is, and will be, invaluable."
Other key specifications include large file downloading, data synchronization based on SyncML language, external functionality interface (EFI) and an enhanced version of user agent profile (UAProf) - which enable content providers to forecast needs of users based on past requests.
WAP phones with the new standards will likely reach mass volume sometime next year. Diercks estimates the first 2.0 phones will come around the second quarter, and Strand believes the mass volume will come towards the end of the year. One producer, Motorola, plans to ship the first 2.0 handsets in the first half of next year and in mass volume in the latter half, according to Rudd.
However, many content providers are still working with the first WAP standards and it may take some time before they start using the 2.0 standards. And by the time 2.0 reaches mass volume, other applications may have reached the market as well.
But despite the support from top producers like Motorola, Ericsson and Nokia, success is far from guaranteed.
"We cannot be sure that applications developers, gateway builders or handset manufacturers deploy specific features," warns Strand. "That is a commercial decision up to each of them as businesses."
Key to WAP 2.0 succeeding, though, will be non-technical issues like increased revenue-sharing between operators and content providers, Strand says. European content providers have complained that carriers have offered less favorable deals than NTT DoCoMo offered i-mode partners in Japan.
Yet, Strand remains bullish on the new standard's future, largely because of its benefit to both current and next-generation telecommunications. Operators can offer services for both GSM and UMTS, making it less expensive to develop and distribute mobile services, he says. But the key benefit will be for UMTS, according to Strand. "If UMTS will succeed, it will be because of WAP 2.0."
Joachim Bamrud is an award-winning journalist with 17 years experience as a writer and editor in the United States, Europe and Latin America. Bamrud has worked for various print, broadcast and online media, including Latin Trade, Reuters and UPI.