Requiem for a WAP
Sep 07, 2009, In Financial Chronicle
It came with a lot of hope. Mobile phones had barely mastered the art of making uninterrupted calls, when wireless application protocol (WAP) entered, offering access to unlimited information. Yet, it was a hybrid technology and pure-play internet connections have now sounded its death knell. WAP is dying, if not already dead. And smart phones with hassle-free net connection may have sent it to its premature grave.
The mobile market is throwing up a new model almost every week, each with the ability of connecting seamlessly to the net, whether it’s through GPRS or wireless. So how could a clunky, featureless information system survive, when the net was at your fingertips? The problem with WAP was that those offering the service had to set up separate pages of information for mobile phone users.
Although the system still survives in older phones, the usage is going down. Before the introduction of WAP, though, service providers had extremely limited opportunities to offer interactive data services, news updates and download. And there are those who believe WAP in India was anyway stillborn. Says Saket Agarwal, CEO of Spice Digital; which supplies wireless applications to telecom operators, “WAP was launched in India in 2000. And it died the same year. Reasons were plenty, from lack of inter-operability to speed and settings problems. It had a new lease of life with GPRS (up to 112 Kbps connection speed) followed by EDGE, with up to 384 kbps theoretical speed.” Before GPRS, which determines mobile connection to the internet, the speeds were 9,600 bps through a system called CSD.
But users wanted mature networks where device managers did auto identification and connections. Lower priced handsets with GPRS connectivity did the trick for a while, even though the information available on WAP was limited. It was also slow. User expectations were higher than what was being delivered. The users had seen the magic of the net, and they wanted it on their handsets, seamlessly, whatever the screen-size.
So, in came multiple solutions, one each from the biggies — BlackBerry brought in easy handling of emails, iPhone came with Safari browser and Android brought in the first open source. Even before this, though, network connections had improved. A phone could connect easily to the internet through the wireless modem. Then came mobile browser OPERA mini. Speed, connection and ease of navigation: suddenly you had everything in your handset. Technology had moved on.
“WAP is dead. Loud and clear. But hang on: there’s still a need for a wall garden approach for specific content for a larger population which is averse to exploration and needs to be spoon-fed,” says Agarwal. According to him, they are the ones who need special WAP sites to download images and ringtones, which still form a large part of value added services from telecom operators.
To them speed does not matter, nor the variety of content. And they don’t want to browse. Even in its death throes, WAP may hang on. “Despite all the fun and speed of exploration that powerful handsets, mobile browsers provide, WAP will remain for long,” says Agarwal.
With 3G knocking on the door and 4G being bandied around, smart phones owners will be able to use advanced services such as video chat, conferencing, video streaming through web and much faster access to the internet.
Says Anuj Kapur, country head, India for Telcordia Service Delivery Solutions, which provides network software and service to operators, “As part of the mobile services evolution we do believe that WAP will eventually phase out and disappear but that might be some time away, particularly for emerging markets.”
What keeps it around for now is the expected lead times in driving down smart-phone prices. Also, there’s a reinvigorated effort by providers to offer new WAP services. Kapur says that till WAP applications taper out, developers and operators would still need to pay attention to their customer base and offer value to them. And, perhaps, provide a softlanding for one more technology. That’s what obsolescence is all about.
By: Dhiren Dukhu