Forget the PC platform

EXE Magazine, May 1998

‘In two or three years time there will be 250 to 300 millions WAP compatible devices – more than there will be PCs’. I was told this, in March, at the Cebit exhibition by Sanjay Jhawar, European Business Manager – Smart Phone and Data Products at the European Cellular Subscriber Division of Motorola.

Now, how many of you have heard about WAP? Raise your hands! And how many know what it is? You can guess from Mr Jhawar's multi-line title that it has something to do with mobile phones, but that's pretty slim. Let me put you in the picture so you can decide whether you should rush to change target platforms.

WAP, or Wireless Application Protocol, is a software architecture which offers a standard platform and communication protocols for developing applications for remote devices such as mobile phones. Its goal is for developers to be able to write applications which will work on all networks worldwide (provided the carrier implemented a gateway) and on all mobile phones. It's based on the UP software developed by Unwired Planet and is now endorsed by most mobile phone manufacturers. Its main use today is for accessing internet-based services from a mobile phone, but the protocols offer much more.

One application, which was shown on the Oracle stand, consisted in unified messaging. It was developed with the Swedish operator Telia and allows Telia customers to check their email, voicemail, and fax from a web page or from a WAP compatible phone (an Alacatel One-Touch Pocket was used). The demo was quite impressive and worked flawlessly. According to Roland Svensson from Oracle, the development was really easy. It was originally tested with Unwired Planet's WAP-phone simulator and it worked first time when tried with a real phone.

WAP is a series of open protocols controlled by the WAP forum ( Access to the protocols is free but participation in the forum is not. One important element which remains unclear to me is whether part of the base software infrastructure is proprietary to Unwired Planet or whether anyone could replace parts of it. This might have an impact on its success compared to all the internet protocols, even though these are not currently targeted at small devices.

Whether Jhawar's prediction is accurate or over-optimistic, WAP is definitely worth a look if nothing more.

David Mery

(C)1998, Centaur Communications Ltd. Reproduced with the kind permission of EXE Magazine.