WAP Forum advances toward Net standards

The next major version of WAP, a protocol for providing Internet-based data services on mobile phones, will complete a migration to XHTML (Extensible Hypertext Markup Language) and TCP (Transmission Control Protocol) as the foundation of the technology, which will make it easier for developers to write WAP applications, said Michael Short, director of international affairs and strategy at BTCellnet, and a member of the WAP Forum Board of Directors.

The group, which has more than 580 member companies and hosted about 700 delegates at a two-day conference this week, is also making progress toward enabling additional services on WAP devices, according to Scott Goldman, chief executive officer of the WAP Forum. In addition to animation, streaming media and music downloads, WAP will also display color graphics, provide location-specific content and allow users to synchronise information with personal information manager software on a desktop PC in a remote location.

Goldman painted WAP, which has been labeled a transitional technology because of its slow performance and rudimentary display, as a vital technology even for the upcoming age of third-generation (3G) wireless communications. The 384Kbps that 3G will deliver to roving users will be shared bandwidth, so each user typically will get only 20Kbps to 30Kbps throughput to a mobile device anyway, Goldman said.

"Not everyone will be able to use all that bandwidth. It'll be divided up, and you need WAP to make the most of that bandwidth," Goldman said. "We welcome 3G," he added.

Goldman also defended WAP as a secure way to send and receive personal information and messages.

"We know that WAP is secure and we know it's becoming more secure, because we've added end-to-end encryption" from the mobile device to the server, Goldman said. Encryption capability is written into the specification for WAP, he said.

In answer to questions about the much-maligned practice by some mobile operators of blocking access to WAP sites outside their own and their partners' sites, WAP Forum executives said the practice was bound to be squeezed out by more universal offerings.

However, BTCellnet's Short said there are some practical reasons for taking this "walled garden" approach. The approach makes it easier to ensure security, control spam e-mail, carry out billing and account for use of the content provided, Short said.

"People who provide content can get paid," he said.

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