When the topic turns to wireless Web, one of the first acronyms you'll hear is WAP (Wireless Application Protocol). Intended as a standard way to handle Net access over smart phones and handheld devices, the widely endorsed WAP offers a binary delivery system that's more efficient than HTTP at lower bandwidths and provides a version of XML (the extensible markup language) designed for small screens. It also features protocols for orchestrating complex e-commerce transactions.
However, there have already been some problems. The usual squabble over technical standards is being exacerbated by the fact that shortcomings in security features have prompted conflicting revisions of the standard. By the time Version 1.3 corrects those problems and is approved sometime this summer, it won't be compatible with prototype phones designed for Version 1.1. And because it takes about 18 months to design a phone compatible with a new microbrowser, volume shipments of WAP-enabled phones won't start until late 2001.
Then there's the patent issue: A small company called Geoworks is threatening to enforce a series of patents it claims for WAP. According to Mark Zohar, an analyst at Forrester Research, "What happens if Nokia or Ericsson or others follow suit with their own patents? It could become a real disincentive to support WAP."
While waiting for WAP, older technologies refuse to go away. For example, companies are pushing ahead with applications based on the Short Message Service (SMS) paging and e-mail standard and the HDML (Handheld Device Market Language) screen formatting technology.
All this isn't to say the wireless Web isn't coming. It's just that it may not be called WAP.
Eric Brown, a regular contributor to pcworld.com, is a writer living in the Boston area.
- Forrester Research, firstname.lastname@example.org