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Guest Column

The Wireless Application Protocol (WAP)

- Bringing Electronic Customer Care to cdmaOne™

Columnist:
Ben Linder
Vice President of Marketing
Unwired Planet

A WAP microbrowser turns the LCD display of a cdmaOne phone into a window that brings a variety of Internet-based information services, e-mail, and Electronic Customer Care applications directly to the subscriber. As cdmaOne networks and phones become data-capable, more than ever, wireless carriers are facing several critical issues such as operating efficiency, service differentiation and revenue growth. In order to ensure the widest variety of solutions, applications must be portable and scalable across different transports and devices.

One of the unique advantages cdmaOne is its potential to carry Internet-based data traffic. IS-99 data services are coming to market rapidly and, combined with technologies such as Quick Net Connect (QNC), can provide industry-leading Internet connectivity services. The combination of native TCP/IP transport and 5-second connection time make IS-99 with QNC a competitive advantage for cdmaOne carriers.

The advent of an open application platform for phones will change the way subscribers use and manage their voice service, and will provide opportunities for creative carriers to solve customer issues and offer additional products and services. With IS-99 data service and the advent of WAP microbrowsers, applications and content can now reside within a network instead of the phone, allowing the handset to remain small and cost-efficient. More than ever before, mobile phones are becoming general-purpose information access devices. Phones enabled with microbrowsers can access an infinite variety of web-based applications and unlimited content. Microbrowser technology has forged revolutionary new ground by increasing the capability of phones and allowing existing devices to be easily updated with new features and functions.

In order for network operators, content providers, and application developers to offer compatible products and services, the industry needs a global standard for defining how applications interact with microbrowsers and the underlying wireless network. The Wireless Application Protocol addresses these issues by combining the wireless digital revolution with the standards of the Internet, enabling most of the actual work to be done with software without adding cost, weight or size to the phones.

In 1997, along with Unwired Planet, industry leaders united to found the Wireless Application Protocol Forum. WAP has published a specification for the implementation of microbrowsers and the network-resident servers that connect microbrowser-enabled devices to network infrastructure as well as to the Internet. WAP is unique in that it is the only truly global specification—spanning multiple airlink standards and promising rapid rollout of microbrowser-capable handsets, all of which are compatible with content and servers from multiple sources. In its first 6 months WAP membership has swelled to more than 50 companies, including many leaders in the cdmaOne world. The membership roster of WAP as well as detailed information, can be found at http://www.wapforum.org.

History of the Wireless Application Protocol

The founders teamed to create a unified approach to bring Internet content and advanced services to digital phones and other wireless terminals. The WAP Forum aims to create a global wireless protocol specification for submission to industry standards bodies. A common standard offers potential economies of scale, encouraging device manufacturers to invest in developing compatible products. Wireless network carriers and content providers will be able to develop new differentiated service offerings as a way to attract new subscribers.

WAP’s Objectives

WAP's goal is to allow a wide variety of wireless devices to access live information resources and applications. The philosophy behind WAP's approach is to utilize as few resources as possible on the handheld device and compensate for the constraints of the device by enriching the functionality of the network. This approach enables a variety of devices, from the very basic handset to a fully featured PDA or laptop PC, to access the same information and content. WAP software suppliers support:

· Multiple devices – Standard phones, enhanced phones, smart phones, palmtops, laptops

· Multiple displays – Text only, Bitmapped

· Multiple input devices – numeric keypads, QWERTY keyboards, touchscreen, stylus

· Multiple transports – 1-way SMS, 2-way SMS, Circuit Switched data, Packet data

· Scalable applications – Applications are written once and run on all devices

WAP Architecture WAP's architecture utilizes microbrowser technology based on Internet standards. The advantage of browser technology is that the handheld device decides how to display the information provided by the server. This allows each device to differentiate itself through its own User Interface. This architecture consumes very small resources on the handheld device in terms of ROM, RAM, and CPU, allowing even the most basic handsets to be equipped with the browser.

Being lean on basic handsets does not sacrifice features on more capable devices such as Smartphones and PDA's. WAP's architecture allows for the inclusion of scripting, graphics and animations, as well as text in applications and content. Various input devices may be supported, such as touch screens and full keyboards and soft keys. This means that the more capable devices can take advantage of richer content and display the same applications with a User Interface which fits the characteristics of the device.

WAP signals a new era for the wireless industry. The mass-market handset is now poised to become a true information appliance, bringing a multitude of meaningful information to the masses. WAP promises to provide a unifying influence, in the best tradition of the Internet, for a global industry to flourish.


(8/9/1998)

 


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