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G Pressure

With the next generation of wireless imminent, is WAP worth the trouble?
Magazine Contributor
3 min read

This story appears in the April 2001 issue of Entrepreneurs Start-Ups magazine. Subscribe »

If you have an Internet-enabled mobile phone or a Palm VII and have given the wireless Web a try, you know it's not quite the same as surfing from your desktop. It's as if the clock has been wound back to the earliest days of the Net: no graphics and slow. But that's all about to change: Thanks to 3G (third-generation) technology, a whole world of wireless broadband, multimedia and m-commerce is getting ready to come knocking.

Wap Upside Your Head
Look into your mobile phone future at these wired Web sites: everything you ever wanted to know about WAP, plus a handy glossary for all those acronyms
WAP Forum: the official developers of the WAP standard features a wide variety of wireless news, articles and resources

But before we look at where we're heading, let's take stock of where we're at. WAP (Wireless Application Protocol) is currently the major standard in the United States when it comes to the mobile Internet. WAP allows mobile phones to access wireless services using WML (Wireless Markup Language) rather than HTML. However, WAP is limited by small bandwidth and few applications. You can check sports scores, stocks, flights, headlines and e-mail to a degree, but it's certainly not a fully realized vehicle for m-commerce.

Piloting our way through the various levels of wireless technology requires some basic math skills. WAP is considered 2G technology; analog was 1G. The shining beacon of wireless right now is 3G technology. Meanwhile, we have to first migrate to 2.5G technology. That leap involves switching from a circuit-based system to a packet-based system, as Japan has already done with iMode. Essentially, packet data services allow users to be "always online" and pay by the data bit instead of by the minute.

GPRS (General Packet Radio Service), sort of a packet-based wireless data addendum to the popular GSM standard, promises speeds of up to 172.8Kbps-compared to the current pokey 14.4Kbps. That would improve WAP's chances in the short run, giving it more functionality and bandwidth until the widespread arrival of affordable 3G services.

Scheduled to hit Japan first in coming months, 3G services won't likely reach our shores for several years. Truly broadband wireless will offer speeds of up to 2Mbps. The poster child service for 3G would be the ability to download and run full-motion video. That will make current WAP speeds and services look like turtles in slow motion.

So although 3G may wipe out WAP sometime down the line, at this point, it's not reason enough to hold off on purchasing a WAP-enabled mobile phone. WAP will be the name of the game for some time to come here in the States.

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