[Wash Post] The WAP backlash continues...

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From: Adam Rifkin (Adam@KnowNow.Com)
Date: Fri Sep 15 2000 - 07:34:37 PDT

What was once a radical position is now conventional wisdom. BTW, Rohit
seems to love his new Nokia 8260. Why the heck did he put up with that
piece of junk Nextel for so long? Oh yeah, they lock you into a number and
you're stuck with it unless you're willing to endure the pain of a
migration. Rohit's new cell number FYI is 206-465-4936. Don't call him
right now, though, he's sleeping after a long night of debugging... :)


WAP, Europe's Wireless Dud?
September 15, 2000
T.R. Reid, Washington Post
Is WAP a flop?
The wireless application protocol, or WAP, is a much-ballyhooed piece of
technology designed to bring the Internet to cellular phones. For two years
now, high-tech gurus, mainly in Europe, have been touting WAP to be the
Next Big Thing in computing and communications. While Americans remain
anchored to a heavy, outdated 20th-century platform--that is, the personal
computer--to get to the Net, Europeans and Asians would leapfrog ahead,
carrying mobile access to the Web in their pockets.
That was the theory, anyway. But nearly a year after WAP hit European
markets, the mobile Internet has been slow to catch on. Although millions
of WAP-enabled cell phones have been sold (or given away by cellular
networks eager for customers), relatively few use the system. The German
cellular operator D2, one of the major promoters, reported last month that
its average WAP customer uses the service less than a minute a day.
The wireless application protocol is essentially a software program that
takes Internet information and displays it in a special format for the
small screens available on mobile telephones and hand-held computers such
as the Palm III. This "micro-browser" software, one of several in use
throughout the world, is built into the telephone. The WAP software was
written by an American firm called Phone.com, but Europeans have been the
first to embrace it largely because traditional land-line telephone service
here is more expensive and less reliable than the U.S. network, making
wireless alternatives more attractive.
But even here in Sweden, which boasts more WAP phones and customers than
any other country, it's hard to find regular users. "We have provided
online banking via WAP to our customers since early this year," said Johan
H. Larson, who heads Internet operations for Stockholm's big SEB bank. "The
idea seemed perfect. Virtually all our customers use the Internet, and they
all have mobile phones.
"But then they try this WAP, and it is so hard! You go down, down, down all
these menus, and you wait, wait, wait each time. You're straining to read
text on this tiny screen on the phone. Eventually, people just give up."
Investors, too, are having second thoughts. Share prices of major European
cell phone makers and network operators have taken sharp hits recently,
despite booming sales, because of concerns about WAP. "People now see that
the [connection] speed is not going to be anything like what has been
forecast," said Keith Woolcock, technology industries analyst at Nomura
Even all-out WAP backers such as Nokia and Ericsson, the Scandinavian firms
that recently passed America's Motorola to lead the world in cellular phone
sales, concede that the wireless Internet has been a disappointment so far.
"We need to spend much more time and effort on usability issues," says Lars
Boman, Ericsson's Internet applications manager. "The beauty of mobile
access to the Internet is that you can go online any place and any time you
have five minutes to spare. But that doesn't work if you have to wait 30
seconds for each new screen."
The problem, not at all unfamiliar on the forward edge of technology, is
that the designer's reach has exceeded the engineer's grasp. The task of
providing full-scale Internet service through wireless connection to a
pocket-sized phone has proven more difficult than most people had
anticipated. Existing cellular networks just can't deliver fast enough all
the data bits it takes to compose an Internet page, and current mobile
phones can't display all the information even if they could receive it.
"We're not there yet, but we will definitely get there," says Ericsson's
Boman. "We need better hardware and a new generation of mobile transmission
to make it work."
The magic wand that will make WAP work, according to Boman and other
backers, is the coming "third generation" of cellular networks. This should
be available in Europe late in 2001, and in the United States about a year
after that. With "3G" transmission, cellular systems will carry vastly more
information at high speeds, theoretically allowing a full Internet page to
reach a screen in a split second. Telephone companies are so enamored of
this new high-bandwidth generation that they have been paying billions of
dollars recently for 3G operating licenses, providing massive windfalls to
Britain, Germany and other European governments. In the United States, the
Federal Communications Commission has repeatedly been forced to delay plans
to auction 3G licenses.

The most successful effort so far to put the Internet on cellular phones
has been in Japan, where the NTT telephone company's "I-Mode" system has
about 10 million daily users. But I-Mode uses specialized Japanese
protocols that probably can't be exported. And I-Mode charges callers for
each piece of information they access--for example, about 30 cents for a
movie review--while Western Net surfers generally expect Internet data to
be free.

So the big question for cell phone users in Europe and America is whether
advances in technology will eventually make WAP viable. The current fashion
within the industry is to question the utility of clunky WAP systems, but
few dispute that the wireless Internet, in some form, will claim a large
part of the future. Hundreds of start-ups from Silicon Valley to
Scandinavia, as well as most of the established telecommunications
equipment manufacturers, are now exploring better ways to put data people
desire--particularly corporate and commercial databases--into the hands of
people in the field, via mobile devices.

"WAP was supposed to be the great European breakthrough that would leave
Americans trailing in the dust," says technology consultant Jakob Nielsen
of Mountain View, Calif. "But the people who have used it so far have
decided that WAP stands for 'Wrong Approach to Portability.' There's a
valid question today whether the Europeans have just raced off in the wrong


How the heck did this end up in my RSS feed viewer? "[from RobotWisdom:] 800x600 jpeg: Geena Davis's scandalous Emmy's dress (PG-13)": http://www.naked-celebs.com/px36/geenaDavis1.jpg

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