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Wireless Application Protocol

What is WAP?

WAP (Wireless Application Protocol) is a technical standard for accessing information over a mobile wireless network. In 1997, several companies organized an industry group called the WAP Forum. This group produces the WAP specification, a (long and detailed) series of technical documents that define standards for implementing wireless network applications. Hundreds of industry firms have given strong backing to the WAP Forum, so the technology should become widely adopted, and it is already well-hyped. WAP specifies an architecture based on layers that follows the OSI model fairly closely.

The Wireless Application Protocol (WAP) is a hot topic that has been widely hyped in the mobile industry and outside of it. WAP is simply a protocol- a standardized way that a mobile phone talks to a server installed in the mobile phone network. It is amazing how in just six months, it has become imperative for all Information Technology companies in Nordic countries and beyond to have a WAP division. Many many advertising agencies and "dot.coms" have announced WAP services. There are three major parts of any WAP-enabled system, namely the WAP Gateway, the HTTP Web Server, and the WAP Device itself, which is interacting with the WAP Gateway.

All Web servers can communicate with a variety of information sources, using a number of different integration tools and protocols, for example a Web server can serve pages of information that are generated by tools such as Active Server Pages (ASP), ColdFusion, or PHP. Database integration is achieved using protocols such as CGI (the Common Gateway Interface) or more likely ODBC.

WAP is hot for several reasons:

  • It provides a standardized way of linking the Internet to mobile phones, thereby linking two of the hottest industries anywhere.
  • Its founder members include the major wireless vendors of Nokia, Ericsson and Motorola, plus a newcomer
  • By April 2000, the WAP Forum had over 350 member companies.
  • Mobile information services, a key application for WAP, have not been as successful as many network operators expected. WAP is seen as a way to rectify this situation.

WAP also has its detractors and controversies:

  • It is very difficult to configure WAP phones for new WAP services, with 20 or so different parameters needing to be entered to gain access to a WAP service.
  • Compared with the installed base of Short Message Service (SMS) compliant phones, the relative number of handsets supporting WAP is tiny.
  • WAP is a protocol that runs on top of an underlying bearer. None of the existing GSM bearers for WAP- the Short Message Service (SMS), Unstructured Supplementary Services Data (USSD) and Circuit Switched Data (CSD) are optimized for WAP.
  • The WAP standard is incomplete, with key elements such as Push (proactive sending of information to mobile devices) and wireless telephony (updating address reports and the like) included in the WAP 1.2, standardized in late 1999 and first expected to be implemented in the Spring of 2000.
  • There are many WAP Gateway vendors out there competing against each other with largely the same standardized product. This has led to consolidation such as the pending acquisition of APiON by
  • Other protocols such as SIM Application Toolkit and Mobile Station Application Execution Environment (MexE) are respectively already widely supported or designed to supercede WAP.
  • WAP services are expected to be expensive to use since the tendency is to be on-line for a long Circuit Switched Data (CSD) call as features such as interactivity and selection of more information are used by the end user. Without specific tariff initiatives, there are likely to be some surprised WAP users when they see their mobile phone bill for the first time after starting using WAP.

WAP Applications

The way in which mobile wireless devices are used differs dramatically from the way we use PCs. On a PC we may spend hours constantly connected to the Web hunting for information at work or playing complex, immersive games at home. On a wireless device, we tend to be away from home and "online" for relatively brief and unpredictable periods of time.

The wireless industry hopes that WAP devices will become popular for ecommerce applications like online banking in the not-so-distant future. In the short term, it is more likely that useful WAP applications will simply extend the functions of telephone and allow us to answer a phone message with an email, for example. The early WAP applications have featured news feeds, stock quotes, and weather forecasts -- hardly compelling content. Significant backlash against the hype and optimism surrounding WAP has certianly occured as a result of the uncertainly about its future.

The Long-Term Future of WAP: WAP today is tied to the Web mindset in many people's minds. These people see WAP as just a technology that gives mobile devices access to the Net directly or through gateways. They find it confusing that so many new network protocols, similar but different from the Web protocols, have been developed. However, it is possible that WAP will enable a new and completely different kind of content network in the more distant future.


A WAP Push is an SMS message which contains a link to a WAP page. When a compatible handset receives a WAP Push message, it allows the user to access that WAP content. WAP Push offers immediate and tangible benefits to mobile network operators, their subscribers and third party content and service providers alike. WAP Push is still the most common medium for the delivery of business to peer multimedia rich services. A WAP Push is effectively a simple SMS within the header of which is included a link to a WAP address. On receiving a WAP Push, the compatible handset will automatically give the user the option to access the WAP content. In this way the WAP Push directs the end user to a WAP address where particular content may be stored ready for viewing or downloading to the handset. The address could be a simple page or an entire WAP site.