Faster than many would have imagined, Wireless Application Protocol (WAP) services are springing up, driven by the ubiquity of digital cell phones and the growing popularity of the internet. Already, companies are addressing the three components needed to bring about a convergence of wireless applications and the internet: WAP-capable cell phones, WAP proxy servers, and WAP-ready sites.
Just a month after cellular operator Globe Telecom launched the Globe Handyphone WAP service this year, Smart Communications introduced its Smart WAP for Smart Gold subscribers.
Smart's first five local partners for WAP content are Infocom, DFNN.com, Yehey.com, Trapik.com and Localvibe.com, providing news updates and information on restaurants and bars, hotels, movies, theatrs, stock trading, directory services, traffic, the weather, flight schedules and more.
To avail of Smart WAP, a subscriber with a WAP-capable handset like the Nokia 7110 activates his phone's mobile data or fax service and configures WAP settings, including a dial-up number, a user name, and password.
The subscriber can then go to a services menu to add a bookmark entry or go to a predetermined home page.
Smart's WAP connection works at speeds of 14.4K bits per second (bps) for internet downloading and browsing.
In a press conference last month, Smart's value-added marketing manager, Jerome Almirante, said that cell phones will become more popular than PCs as internet access devices, especially since they cost less.
However, he said, there is a need to increase and promote localized and relevant content for WAP. Another drawback is the limited number of WAP handsets in the market.
For his part, Globe's product development manager, Abdel Joseph Telan said demand for WAP services should pick up as soon as more WAP-ready phones become available.
Globe's WAP service includes access to CNN.com as well as WAP test sites such as Wireless Games, Room 33, Wap.cityky and other information services. Telan said future service expansion will be focused on mobile banking and e-commerce sites.
Smart's WAP partner Localvibe.com , a young Philippine Internet site that offers a directory of events in Metro Manila, last month launched Localvibe Wireless, and is inviting partnerships with other cellular phone operators who want to offer the local content to their subscribers as part of their SMS (short messaging system) and WAP services.
Localvibe director for Web development Carlo Navarro said WAP- ready sites will be hot when more WAP devices become available. "A study predicts that by the first quarter of 2001, all cell phone manufacturers will already be offering WAP-capable phones," he said.
"WAP-ified" site developers use Wireless Markup Language (WML) to create a simplified Web site.
"WAP sites only feature text but not images due to the limited bandwidth for cellular networks," said Navarro. "But I believe this will be enhanced when GPRS (general packet radio services) technology that runs as high as 400Kbps becomes available locally."
Navarro added that users are starting to get acquainted with wireless applications. "With Localvibe for instance, we have recorded that wireless applications comprised only 8.74 percent of our network traffic in November last year. Now it has jumped to 34 percent."
WAP providers, meanwhile, have also used the technology to address corporate needs.
One of these is Hong Kong-based Ariel Communications, which offers Infinite Technologies' WAPLite, a WAP gateway that sits between the cellular network, corporate intranets and the global internet.
Ariel Communications managing director David Bellis said WAP services advertised today are aimed at the mass-market, including online chat, online stocks and shares information, and checking bank balances. But WAP is just as important to businesses, he said.
"While individuals can already use WAP for a lot of personal applications, the real benefits for businesses come from integrating WAP into the corporate IT infrastructure," Bellis said.
Bellis pointed out that a working WAP solution for businesses include a content server, a WAP proxy and a WAP-enabled device such as Nokia's new 7110 or Ericsson MC218 personal digital assistant.
The content server is the source of information users will see on their mobile phone screens, with pages created using WML. On the other hand, the WAP proxy takes WML-formatted information from the content server and translates it into a compressed format WAP devices understand.
"Although mobile operators are now setting up WAP proxy servers, corporate applications demand a more secure solution such as WAPLite, if they don't want their WML information passing across the public internet," said Bellis.
WAPLite is a 32-bit Windows application, running on Windows 95 or 98 for evaluation and testing, but needs Windows NT for a production system.
Technical personnel Dennis Puzon of Homepage, WAPLite Philippine distributor, said the product is now available locally and is initially targeted at ISPs and cellular operators. Licensing is based on the number of sessions or the number of users active at the same time.