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WAPsight's 2001 Wireless Predictions
Posted: 01-Jan-2001 [Source: WAPsight]

[Some news and views over the past year and predictions for the future of wireless from WAPsight.]

by Jean Panke, WAPsight staff -- While watching the wireless scene over the past year, I couldn't help but become intrigued by the numerous articles appearing in late September and early October attempting to clarify and define WAP. Numerous stories were appearing on major news sites and more focused technology sites. It appeared that WAP proponents had their fill of criticism and were generating some interesting dialogue in defense of WAP.

First of all, there appeared to be a consensus that WAP was becoming the scapegoat of the over-hyped wireless Internet's failure to deliver what advertising had defined WAP to be. Telecom advertising had made attempts to synonymize WAP and wireless web. In hindsight, their attempts to appeal to a consumer group low on the learning curve regarding wireless Internet, and WAP in particular, seems to have been a costly error in judgment.

It has been interesting doing my own personal research regarding people's knowledge about WAP over the course of the past year. During various trips and travels both in the US and Europe, I would make a point to stop at various wireless shops and ask about wireless services and WAP in particular. It wasn't until the second half of the year that the sales staff for the wireless companies in the US began to respond with any glimmer of recognition when WAP was mentioned and generally it was considered synonymous with wireless web. WAP had already become a fairly well-recognized term in Western Europe back in 1998. By July of 1999, I was seeing billboards in small Czech towns advertising WAP.

By now, hopefully everyone knows that WAP is just a protocol or a way of taking information from the web and stripping it down to its bare bones in efforts to be displayed on a hand-held screen. No bells, no whistles--just the basic info with no flashing graphics. It seemed to be a good idea until people began asking why it didn't do more. The answer is quite simple--it was never designed to do more. Back when the standards were introduced in April of 1998 they were met enthusiastically. It seemed clear at that time that WAP was intended to offer a parallel experience to the PC. However, the hype following the introduction of the standards with WAP being overpromoted and misrepresented brought about criticism for its failure in not delivering what it never was intended to do in the first place.

A further defense of WAP involves its increased usability with the launching of GPRS services. GPRS will offer always connected faster data delivery to handhelds. WAP will continue to be an enabler in this scenario with expectations being that faster delivery should lead to increased consumer satisfaction. If that bears true, WAP should have an opportunity to define itself in more realistic terms. The preferred revenue streaming model for consumers at that time will certainly be for operators to offer packet delivery services.

Another difficulty for WAP was that there was unfair comparison between hand-held application delivery and PC application delivery. It would seem important to compare web-enabled devices only to web-enabled devices and not to PC's. Mobile phones have moved from voice only to offering a wide range of data services. The opportunity for accessing information wirelessly provides opportunity for optimizing time and availability and minimizing down time. The benefits of wireless information access and what it is designed to do is very different from what is expected from a PC. Accessing location-based information for a restaurant, for example, is certainly a different function than searching the Internet on your PC for information regarding a trip to Aruba and downloading a cruise-line brochure.

Where is WAP headed?

There are 4.4 million WAP sites around the world with over 300,000 software companies developing WAP content. The question is, with that level of investment and people-power, why aren't there more interactive services? After all, how many WAP portals do we need? There seem to be more and more WML pages available as time goes by but the applications are standing still.

WAP advertising appears to have targeted young consumers instead of the more initially lucrataive business market. This market has a much higher early adoption success record and also is the population group most likely to benefit from WAP's applications, specifically in the area of useable information, data gathering and time efficiency. However, this market group also has additional security needs, further complicating the wireless development and adoption picture.

Another plus for WAP, however, is its ability to provide access to dynamic or changing content. By offering workers access to dynamic content, WAP can significantly impact the way business works by offering the opportunity to have up-to-date current information available through wireless devices. With the introduction of GPRS, this leads to terrific opportunities for business applications.

On the other hand, the consumer mobile Internet market is ambiguous and difficult to define. One of the negative consequences of the WAP-hype and the WAP-fall is the instability of the technology leaving developers at a crossroads being forced to choose between various application strategies. While people in Japan are paying monthly fees to iMode for downloading cartoons and games, the same content will not sell in the US with the same level of success. Content needs to be culturally sensitive to be successful. iMode's closed standard might cause it to suffer some significant backlash as it attempts to move into the Western market. Here in the Western world it appears business will drive development of wireless Internet content with consumer-driven applications increasing as GPRS revenue streaming becomes more closely attuned to their wants and demands.

Some predictions for 2001.

1. Operators as well as consumers will share a growing appreciation and enthusiasm of the importance of being always connected. Support for this prediction is in the rising status and success of iMode, GPRS, RIM and other always-connected devices.

2. Mobile Internet billing models will move from per minute to packet-delivery based.

3. Handsets will become programmable leading to dynamic and personalized application development.

4. Handset application development will become increasingly open offering expanded opportunities for developers. Some carriers will learn the power and potential of harnessing this tremendous source of application development serving to energize consumer interest and revenue streaming.

4. Handsets will become increasingly multi-modal to meet the roaming needs of consumers.

WAPsight will be developing some new applications of its own in the year ahead. We continue to look forward to providing you with your daily dose of wireless information. We continue to enjoy hearing from our readers and appreciate all your comments and suggestions. Have a great 2001!

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