WAP Browsers 101

The hot technologies of wireless Internet and wireless telephony are being merged at a furious pace. According to Roger Snider, senior product marketing manager at Phone.com (formerly Unwired Planet, Redwood City, Calif.), 95 percent of all PCS/cellular phones sold in the United states will be WAP-capable (wireless application protocol) by 2002.

As the old saying goes, it's time to separate the wheat from the chaff.

Handsets Make the Difference

Despite the slow access speeds of these data-capable phones (9.6 to 19.2 kilobytes per second), latency--Internet routing congestion--may be the bottleneck in mobile phone information delivery using text-only browsing, WAP gateways and WAP-enabled Web sites.

There are three types of cellular/PCS phones in the United states that have both tethered and untethered ability to receive information from the Internet using microbrowser technology. (A tethered phone is connected to a notebook or PDA via a cable.)

Phones with a WAP-installed microbrowser. This most basic of the three categories includes Nokia 7160, Samsung SDH-3500 or Motorola Timeport. Sprint PCS sells the Samsung and Motorola models. These phones include a browser button and a Phone.com-developed WAP browser installed in firmware. Price range: $150 to $250.

Enhanced phones. The Neopoint 1000, with PIM (personal information manager) software and PC synchronization, has a larger display and resembles a small PDA, but with a proprietary OS (operating system). This phone is available from Sprint. Price: $300.

AT&T Digital PocketNet phone. A Mitsubishi (also called MobileAccess) T250 with a much larger display than the previous Samsung Duette or Mitsubishi T100 PocketNet phones. Like the Neopoint, its OS is proprietary. Digital PocketNet combines AT&T Wireless' TDMA (time division multiple access) nationwide voice network (850/1900 MHz [megahertz]) with their CDPD (cellular digital packet data) nationwide digital data network (850 MHz). These phones connect consumers to information portals such as Infospace, allowing the user to browse low-graphics Web content. The T250 lists for $400 and offers speeds up to 19.2 Kbps, the fastest of any WAP-enabled device.

For business users, the AT&T PocketNet service with the T250 combines all the features and benefits of TDMA voice service with the ability to access corporate e-mail, calendar and contacts. Users can choose either Lotus Mobile Services for Domino or Wireless Knowledge's Revolv service. When combined with a software provider package, the T250 handset can also be used to access custom databases and support dispatch applications. For example, Wireless Knowledge's Revolv service allows AT&T PocketNet subscribers to access e-mail, contacts, calendars and other information residing on a Microsoft Exchange 5.5 server.

A true Smartphone uses a real PDA combined with a digital phone. Currently, only the Qualcomm PDQ and the Nokia 9000, which cost $800 and $900, respectively, fall into this category. The Qualcomm unit, operating over CDMA (code division multiple access) networks (850/1900 MHz), was released in 1999. It resembles a Palm III melded into a QCP-2700 handset. Sprint PCS sells this model as their high-end product offering. A full suite of applications from Palm and other third-party developers are available for this phone, and it offers a better Web-browsing experience compared to circuit-switched CDMA at 14.4 Kbps.

Pacific Bell was one of several GSM (global system for mobility) carriers offering the Nokia 9000, a popular model in Europe. GSM offers slow but true Web browsing at 9.6 bps using software by Geoworks in Alameda, Calif., one of the first developers of pre-WAP smartphone software. Overseas, a newer model of this smartphone, the Nokia 9110i, is being sold. Many carriers have discontinued the 9000 in the U.S., as the price proved too high for mass market and even business usage.

WAP Explained: Phone.com to the Rescue

Phone.com was a pioneer in the convergence of the Internet and mobile telephony. In 1995, its initial technology enabled the delivery of Internet-based services to wireless telephones, and the following year the company deployed its first products based on this technology, partnering with AT&T Wireless and PCSI on the initial analog PocketNet product.

To provide a worldwide open standard for the delivery of Internet-based services to mass-market wireless telephones, Phone.com, Ericsson, Motorola and Nokia formed the Wireless Application Protocol Forum in June 1997. The following year, the WAP Forum published technical specifications for application and content development and product interoperability based on Internet technology and standards. Over 100 wireless telephone manufacturers, network operators, content providers and application developers now ensure that their Internet-based products and services are interoperable by complying with WAP specifications.

Phone.com couldn't achieve its mission without its partners and alliances. The various companies have worked hand-in-hand to bring full end-to-end solutions to market, and are likely to continue offering more and more 2.5G (generation) data-oriented services at lower price points. WAP phones and ASPs (applications service providers) provide the key to long-term profits in the wireless information industry.

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