Wrong Approach to Portability.

Wireless Application Protocol helps put a limited function non-standard proprietary browser inside a mobile phone with a three line display too small to see. WAP isn't a web browser and access to the internet. WAP doesn't do HTTP, and doesn't show web sites. WAP is crap!

What is worse, the phone companies supplying WAP appear to be trying to limit access to their own portal sites, rather than allowing access to any WAP site. In May 2000 France Telecom were ordered by the court to allow access to the web via rivals. British Telecom were under investigation in June 2000 for setting handsets up so they could not access rival portals. Monopoly rents for WAP will mean most people will reject it.

3G Lab's Alligata software allows portals to send an SMS that will unlock a phone and allow access to other portals. The code is Open Source. Expect these closed portal WAP suppliers to die.

Version 1 of WAP seems to me slow, unreliable, unpleasant, and totally lacking in content. I also couldn't see any use to it. Everything it does so far could equally be done with SMS, and that doesn't require replacing phones, nor does it need special WAP only sites. Usability is low. Small screen, slow connection, phone call for every connection, and limited range of sites. This seems crazy. If WAP designers customise for each type of phone their development costs go higher. Web sites hate multiple versions. The first generation WAP phones will all get thrown away if WAP does take off, because they are totally inadequate.

Usability guru Jakob Nielsen calls it the Wrong Approach to Portability.

WAP is Closed Door

Despite Microsoft attempting to take it over, the personal computer is wide open to anyone to change and will run data from anywhere. In contrast, the phone company push to WAP means a closed system. The portals will be high cost, closed shops running out of the phone company. None of the open idea of setting up a web site needing only a drive and some bandwidth.

WAP purports to provide internet access. That is what some of the hype says. Yet a WAP phone can not access the internet at all using WAP, so that is a straight out lie. At best, the phone commpany portal may remove most of the web page, and send whatever text seems meaningful down the line to you.

WAP protocols are totally incompatible with the Internet. At every turn it mutates the existing standards into a proprietary non-standard version that will rapidly become outdated. WAP is more difficult to write code for than is HTML. There are no WAP servers that you can run on your own equipment. There is no choice of WAP browsers, as you are locked into a lowest common demominator by the decisions of your phone manufacturer. WAP is designed to lock out third party supply of web type information, and leave the phone company as sole gateway to any information.

WAP is designed to ensure that you push up your connection costs by having to stay connected to make it work. There is bugger all support for offline anything.

If you have a phone in your hand, why not phone someone and ask them? How many times have you found what you wanted on a web site without a need to ask further questions?

Connect to the Internet, not to WAP

If you want to connect to the internet and the web, use a PC connected to a regular phone line. If your phone company ever makes DSL available at a decent price (which they won't while they can overcharge for ISDN and T1), change over to that. It is way faster than a mobile phone. It probably always will be way faster than a mobile.

If you really want mobile data access (in any large city in Australia) use Telstra Big Pond Mobile. You get a 9600 baud connection to a $3.30 off peak mobile number. You can access all your regular ISP email, web and news features via that. Telstra say you need a Windows laptop, PC Card modem, mobile phone cable, and a mobile phone. I say dump that whole bulky, fragile, crash prone laptop crap idea. Can you imagine getting that working on the corner of a table at a cafe? Instead use a data adaptor equipped IrDA mobile phone (Ericsson SH888 is an older example), and connect without wires from your IrDA equipped, instant on, PDA (Psion 5 or Ericsson MC218 are older examples). This works fine. The biggest problem is getting someone in Telstra to admit the service exists; once you get on to the right people, they can have it set up for you in five minutes, without any credit cards or anything except a new user name and a password. As with mobile phones, this doesn't work way out in the bush (95% coverage means 95% of the cities - it is more like 5% of the area of Australia).

General Packet Radio Services

General packet radio service (GPRS) leaves your mobile phone always connected, and promises data as fast as your land line phone. I hear a UK trial by BT Cellnet didn't work too well, and the speed on offer has now halved. Another one to believe only after it has been benchmarked by some cynic who knows what they are doing. In 2003 it is said to be available here.

Will the Telcos Go Broke?

The Telcos have spent a lot of money buying spectrum, now governments have discovered it can be auctioned. Some people think they may have been wasting their money (hence their shares have dived as low as half their former heights. The problem is that no-one is really sure the public will be out there buying. The telcos got cellular wrong (in the other direction - the takeup rate was 10 times best predictions), so maybe they have this wrong (but in the other direction). As at the end of 2000, public response to WAP has been underwhelming. Two million using it in Europe, where 10 million were expected.

Even if lots of people take up WAP, what can the vendors sell? Location specific services are mostly low value. How much are you willing to pay to get a list of the nearest five Indian curry restaurants? Or the weather tomorrow? Also all the above can be done with SMS. They might get somewhere with the mobile bank idea, but I personally wouldn't trust it except for small amounts, and they won't get much commission on that.

Other Comments about WAP

Choice magazine content producer Michael Hohl on why they didn't test mid 2001 phones for WAP. "We did that last year, but it's not done any more because our counterparts in Europe decided WAP is more or less dead in Europe and it's not worth spending the money testing it."

Pointers to WAP portals and pages

I removed about half the addresses when I returned to this in late 2002, as the sites had disappeared, just like most talk of WAP. Removed half of what remained in 2005.

A really nice guide to WAP for developers. Worth checking. http://www.wap.com/cgi-bin/wapfaq.cgi?chapter0
Ananova WAP site, UK news, sports, TV.
Financial Times reports.
Wireless internet company Psion bought in July 2000. They have signups for a WAP Portal, stuff for developers and m-commerce, SMS push, press archives, WML hosting. Probably a good place to get some commercial background. They had a Psion WAP gateway at and their WAP URL was at wap.fonedata.com They offer access to some U.K. content providers, and mention share prices from Digital Look, car prices from LOOT, and Indian restaurants with Curry Pages. Also mentioned are sending email, and checking weather.
Large WAP portal. http://wap.genie.co.uk I think it is gone.
Wireless Intelligent Portal, same URL for Web and WAP. In October 2000, they listed as pending 13 sites for June, 8 for July, plus the Olympics. Hope they were doing better than on their home page! Sites listed as working were a search engine for 100,000 WAP pages and 2500 sites. They also listed a links page, a personal booklinks page, a personal mobile web page, a word or phrase translator, a cocktail generator (that worked), and Euro 2000 fixtures. http://www.m-central.com/
Psion's WAP home page, from their Trivanti joint venture (which has now folded).
W* Effect Considered Harmful
Rohit Khare's (justified in my opinion) criticism of WAP and its fundamental design flaws. Excellent summary of the history and entire structure of the design. Try looking around their site http://www.4k.associates.com/IEEE-L7-WAP-BIG.htm
I hope you have enjoyed www.ericlindsay.com.