WAP, Web & SMS: Complements, Not Competitors
By Joachim Bamrud, Mon Dec 04 00:00:00 GMT 2000

The much-criticized WAP is often compared with the traditional wired Web. But WAP was never meant to be a replacement to the Web, but rather a mobile complement. And SMS will complement both.

Much of this year's debate on WAP has focused on its short-comings (small screens on the phones, long waiting times through the gateways, insufficient content) compared with the traditional Internet.

But the critics and naysayers have failed to see the point: WAP was launched as a new technology that would create something new (wireless Web), not something final. None of the producers, operators or WAP developers ever saw WAP as replacing the traditional Internet.

Instead it gave consumers a choice they didn't have before. They could use their mobile phones not just for voice calls, but also to access a wide range of information and applications that previously only was available on the wired Web. Unlike the traditional Internet, this new wireless Internet could be accessed anywhere, anytime (as long as you had that little device, of course).

And then there's SMS, the text messaging service that has been enormously popular in Europe and some parts of Asia. Although SMS has so far largely been a youth phenomenon, it is increasingly also being used by adults, companies and content providers.

As both consumers and content and service providers see WAP as another platform (not an either/or solution), we will see more services that are being offered on WAP, Web and SMS, using the unique advantages of all three.

The Financial Times is a good example. In addition to its already-existing Web site, the British paper earlier this year launched WAP and SMS services. And interestingly enough, while its Web and WAP sites are free, it charges for the SMS service, knowing full well that there's a demand among businesspeople (especially in the finance sector) for updated or tailored news alerts.

WAPaResult is planning a similar strategy. The UK WAP site plans to continue offering a free site, but will charge for SMS alerts of sports events.

And then there's the example of Nokia, which in September launched an SMS alert service for job seekers to the Finnish company who had first registered on the Web site, the first such service offered by a major company.

Whether it's stock quotes, sports scores or job openings, the emergence of mobile technologies like WAP and SMS has clearly provided useful complements to the traditional Internet.

Other sectors that will benefit from using all three platforms include travel, enabling you to receive SMS alerts on valuable airline and hotel offers, for example. Or retail outlets, alerting registered customers of sales and bargains on desired products.

In countries like Sweden and Finland, local operators Telia and Sonera are also using SMS to provide location-based information such as the nearest pharmacies or restaurants.

Needless to say, these services clearly have to be voluntary and provide quick service for those who want to cancel their subscriptions.

SMS is not the only mobile messaging system, however. Increasingly we are seeing traditional e-mail being available over mobile phones. And unlike SMS they don't have length restrictions of 160 characters (although Sonera is offering a service that enables you to receive an e-mail of 300 words, for example, through two SMS messages).

However, wireless e-mail won't replace SMS for some time yet, with many consumers still preferring the latter. According to a recent report from Arthur Andersen and JP Morgan, the value of the European SMS market is expected to grow from $3.7 billion this year to $5.4 billion next year. By comparison wireless e-mail will grow from practically nothing this year to $644 million next year.

The key, though, is that neither consumers nor content and service providers will view WAP, Web and SMS as either-or platforms, but as well platforms for efficient communications.

The wireless Internet is expected to have more users than the fixed Internet by 2004. Yet, what this means is that there will still be many people that use both or just the fixed Internet.

Which really shouldn't surprise us. After all, TV didn't replace radio, but gave consumers a way to see moving images in the luxury of their own home (without having to go the cinema). Despite TVs popularity, radio still is more pervasive in many countries.

The video industry didn't kill the cinemas, either. Many people still prefer seeing the films on a wide screen, although they will also see videos because it may be more practical and convenient (not to mention cheaper).

It's all about what is most convenient at a given moment. And that's the case with the Web, WAP and SMS as well.

Joachim Bamrud is the editor of at Wapland.com 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. He can be reached at jbamrud@wapland.com.