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Wireless Application Protocol - WAP

What Is WAP ?

Mobile world meets cyberspace
Mobile Internet is all about Internet access from mobile devices. Well, itís true, but the ground realities are different. No doubt Internet has grown fast, well really fast! but mobile Internet is poised to grow even faster. The fundamental difference lies in the fact that
whereas academics and scientists started the Internet, the force behind mobile Internet access is the cash-rich mobile phone industry. Mobile industry has always been looking for more avenues to make more money and in this attempt, the mobile industry besides carefully finding about the needs and requirements for a mobile data user is also creating new demand patterns also. What makes things even more favorable for the mobile Internet is that it already has a lot of Internet-based content from which to draw. This can be adapted for display on mobiles in a number of ways. A website can be viewed using a phone that is WAP-enabled.

A mobile is something that we take along with us where ever we go (unlike our computers) and that is one of the reasons many analysts believe that within three years more people will be accessing the Internet from mobile phones than from office or home computers.

Well, a variety of mobile wireless standards exist today, each have different levels of data capabilities. Thanks to the developments taking place in all the 2nd generation mobile wireless data technologies, and the high data speeds being promised by the 3rd generation systems, the distinction between the wireless, wireline and the Internet service providers is beginning to blur. Mobile Internet access surely is poised to be a major commercial success. While the underlying network technologies keep on evolving, what is going to differentiate on network from the other is finally the services that it provides to the end user. Data services provided by the mobile networks are fast becoming popular and in some countries in Europe people are spending more on mobile data access compared to voice services. This presents a huge opportunity for the mobile data service developers.

The issue is that with a range of mobile devices and underlying mobile wireless technologies, developing services specific to each type of equipment and specific to a particular technology is troublesome. An application written for specific equipment and a specific technology wonít work anywhere else. This calls for a standardization, which provides a generic model where applications can be written without keeping in mind the equipment and the technology. On the equipment side, the wireless devices represent the ultimate constrained computing device with:

  • Less powerful CPUs,
  • Less memory (ROM and RAM)

  • Restricted power consumption

  • Smaller displays

  • Different input devices (e.g., a phone keypad, voice input, etc.)

and on the network side, wireless networks are constrained by

  • Less bandwidth

  • More latency

  • Less connection stability

  • Less predictable availability

However, most important of all, wireless subscribers have a different set of essential desires and needs than desktop or even laptop Internet users.  With the emergence of 3G technologies, the constraint on the low data rates may not be as limiting as it is today but is must be understood clearly that, as bandwidth increases, the handsetís power consumption also increases which further taxes the already limited battery life of a mobile device. Therefore, even as wireless networks improve their ability to deliver higher bandwidth, the power availability at the handset will still limit the effective throughput of data to and from the device. A wireless data solution must be able to overcome these network limitations and still deliver a satisfactory user experience.

Here comes WAP!
The Wireless Application Protocol (WAP) is the de-facto world standard for the presentation and delivery of wireless information and telephony services on mobile phones and other wireless terminals. The WAP Forum has published a global wireless protocol specification, based on existing Internet standards such as XML and IP, for all wireless networks. The WAP specification is developed and supported by the wireless telecommunication community so that the entire industry and most importantly, its subscribers, can benefit from a single, open specification. WAP is designed to work with most wireless networks such as CDPD, CDMA, GSM, PDC, PHS, TDMA, FLEX, ReFLEX, iDEN, TETRA, DECT, DataTAC, Mobitex. Actually Phone.com, Ericsson, Nokia and many others began developing standards independently of each other, but it was soon realized that it would make more sense to focus development around a common standard. WAP forum was thus born with a desire to establish a common format for Internet transfers to mobile telephones, without having to customize the Internet pages for the particular display on every different mobile telephone or personal organizer.

The Wireless Application Protocol (WAP) addresses the issues mentioned above by introducing the concept of the Internet as a wireless service platform. By addressing the constraints of a wireless environment, and adapt existing Internet technology to meet these constraints, the WAP Forum has succeeded in developing a standard that scales across a wide range of wireless devices and networks. The WAP specifications complement existing wireless standards. For example, the WAP specification does not specify how data should be transmitted over the air interface. Instead, the WAP specification is intended to sit on top of existing bearer channel standards so that any bearer standard can be used with the WAP protocols to implement complete product solutions. It defines a protocol stack that can operate on high latency, low bandwidth networks such as Short Message Service (SMS), or GSM Unstructured Supplementary Service Data (USSD) channel. In addition to being air interface independent, the WAP specification is also independent of any particular device. Instead, it specifies the bare minimum functionality a device must have, and has been designed to accommodate any functionality above that minimum.

The WAP specification uses the best of existing standards, and has developed new extensions where needed. For example, a WAP Gateway communicates with other Internet nodes using the standard HTTP 1.1 protocol and the wireless handsets use the standard URL addressing scheme to request services. The WAP forum is also working with many other standards organizations to develop or modify standards related to new technologies, which need modifications for wireless environment. The WAP forum has liaison relationships (or is in the process of having) with Cellular Telecommunications Industry Association (CTIA), World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), Telecommunications Industry Association (TIA) and Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF). This ensures that when new standards emerge, these standards remain compatible with the work of the WAP Forum. For example, the WAP Forum will be working with the W3C and IETF to ensure future convergence with HTML-NG (Next Generation) and HTTP-NG specifications, and to provide input to these groups regarding the requirements of future wireless network technologies.

The Wireless Application Protocol is a standard developed by the WAP Forum, a group founded by Nokia, Ericsson, Phone.com (formerly Unwired Planet), and Motorola. The WAP Forum has now expanded to include more than 200 members, including operators, infrastructure suppliers, software developers and content providers.

WAP Specifications
Go to WAPFORUM for specifications and additional documents on WAP.

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