With the emergence of the mobile Internet in Asia/Pacific, wireless application protocol (WAP) dominates the market in terms of distribution, but pockets of alternative microbrowsers in key markets promise competition should the standard stumble, according to Dataquest Inc., a unit of Gartner Group, Inc. (NYSE: IT - news and ITB - news).
Asian operators controlling 73 percent of Asia's first quarter 2000 subscriber base have installed gateways supporting WAP or HDML microbrowsers. In Japan, NTT DoCoMo, which accounted for 17 percent of total Asia/Pacific subscribers at the end of the first quarter of 2000, uses a different solution: Compact Hyper Text Markup Language (cHTML). Meanwhile, Japan's J-Phone Group, with 5 percent of Asia/Pacific subscribers, is using its own Mobile Mark Up Language (MML) based browser. Microsoft's Mobile Explorer solution, which also supports WAP, has been implemented in Korea by KT Freetel and its recently acquired partner Hansol M.com (now KT.com), who together control the remaining 5 percent of the Asia/Pacific customer base.
"Phone.com grew its sales quickly. But more than half of the operators who consider or provide WAP service have purchased gateways from traditional infrastructure vendors. Nokia and Ericsson, in particular, have built strong momentum for their WAP portfolio during the first half of 2000," said Sauk-Hun Song, industry analyst for Dataquest's Mobile Communications Asia/Pacific and Japan program.
Success at the gateway level may stimulate further sales at the server level. Ultimate success for WAP will, however, be driven by the delivery of successful applications to users and consequent subscriber uptake of services.
With operator support delivering the promise of large users bases, WAP and WAP-compatible application support is also building worldwide with both Phone.com and Nokia indicating that they have well over 100,000 registered developers worldwide.
"WAP has built strong momentum within the industry, but it must develop similar momentum with customers or it will face pressure from competing solutions within six months," said Mr. Song. "The early WAP days disappointed many users. The expectations have not been met. If improvements take too long, operators will consider alternative solutions. The i-mode solution, currently limited to Japan, may break into other markets and could challenge WAP."
"WAP support will undergo a significant test in 2001 as service delivery is expected to be carried over to Global System for Mobile Communication's (GSM) packet radio solution General Packet Radio Service (GPRS) by many operators," said Nicholas Khoo, industry analyst for Dataquest's Mobile Communications Asia/Pacific and Japan program.
"GPRS should improve connection times to the levels which have proven attractive to Japanese and Korean subscribers, but operators will still need to ensure coverage and build a handset supported user base, which could take time. In addition, GPRS implementations still have to clarify dimensioning, IP addressing, handset interoperability and billing issues. In the interim, and for certain services and segments, operators may also choose Short Message Service (SMS) as a bearer or extend the life of circuit-switched services through technologies that improve dial-up times or data throughput," Mr. Khoo said.
Additional analysis is available in the Dataquest Perspective "Mobile Internet Solutions: Will World Domination Be Decided in Asia/Pacific?" This report provides market analysis of mobile Internet solutions in Asia/Pacific.