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Why WAP isn’t… as bad as people say

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Its unlucky that the acronym for Wireless Application Protocol (WAP) has such an unfortunate rhyme! Even more unlucky for WAP, it burst onto the mobile communication scene with lavish promises from the Mobile Operators (you know who you are) of ‘The Internet on your Mobile’ and ‘Take the Internet with you’.

That really was a load of WAP.

So, a few years on with the hype forgotten, we can ask, ‘WAP, what is it good for?’

More than you might think, given the current deafening silence about it from those same Mobile Operators.

The rise (and rise) of SMS is instructive. This has gone from nowhere to everywhere with practically no promotion from the networks. Type SMS into Google and you get 30 million hits! In China in 2003, 220 Billion SMS messages were sent. In the UK alone in 2004, 26 Billion were sent, which equates to more than one per day for every man, woman and child in the entire country! What is going on here?

Well SMS is cheap, not cheap enough perhaps but, up until a couple of years ago, much cheaper than a mobile call. So it was a viable alternative to making a mobile phone call, everyone could send and receive them, and it didn’t matter what handset you used or what network you were on (or even which country you were in).

Much the same is true of WAP. Most handsets sold this century in GSM markets are compatible. Costs, especially using GPRS, are very low, as long as the information is optimised for the handset. Actually, it costs less to read your email with GPRS than to send an SMS. How times change!

And people are using it, too. In the UK in December 2003, the number of WAP pages viewed in a month was over 1 billion for the first time. The Mobile Data Association (MDA) counted 14.6 billion page views in 2004 and recent months show an 18% increase, year on year.

All this is in the face of complete indifference, if not outright hostility, from the networks. The problem for them is that, as mentioned, WAP is cheap. You can get all the mobile email you need via WAP to your handset for around one tenth of the cost of a RIM Blackberry data subscription. And please don’t ask how much the running costs are of a laptop mobile data card! A while ago, one of my colleagues managed, without really trying, to use more data in a month than the cost of the mobile data card itself. Since then the networks have introduced more reasonable price bands, but he now gets all the email he needs on his cellular phone via WAP for one hundredth the amount spent during those expensive 30 days. And he doesn’t need to carry a laptop around with him, wait for it boot, wait again for it to download the mail, and balance it on one hand whilst holding his coffee with the other and his mobile phone in a third!

One of our customers browses his mail in the morning whilst shaving – he can find out what has been happening overnight without having to get his computer out, dial in and log on. Another browses whilst tending to his cows, miles from mains electricity. Yet another admits he reads his mail in board meetings – so far no-one has noticed as his mobile just sits on the desk in front of him.

And for users of WAP, there is most likely, no new device to buy, either. Nothing additional to weigh down your pockets or to find room for in your briefcase. And it isn’t just good for email. You can also look up train timetables, get news & sports results, find medical information, find a restaurant and see what’s on the TV tonight.

And you can do all this, with the one electronic device that most people have with them all of the time – their mobile phone.

So – no new expensive devices required, no high monthly charges and no waiting. No wonder the Mobile Operators aren’t impressed! With more than 30 years in the IT industry, Mike Street is now director of FastComm (www.fastcomm.net) which specialises in information and tools to help increase sales, including Airlook Mobile Email software, the Eye Catcher Video Phone and the online Contact Management system, FastCRM. He is also webmaster of his wife's Health and Beauty site Zenergie (www.zenergie.co.uk)

 

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