The Ultimate Mobile Portal


What is WAP | What WAP can provide | WAP requirements, the Gateway, and WML
How WAP protocols are optimized for the wireless web | The future of WAP

What is WAP ?

WAP (Wireless Application Protocol) is a worldwide standard for providing Internet communications on wireless devices such as mobile phones, pagers, or hand-held organizers.  WAP links the mobile world to the Internet as well as corporate Intranets.  Thus, WAP offers the ability to deliver an unlimited range of services to the mobile user without the constraints of having to be physically connected to networks and computer terminals. 

WAP is a global industry standard, and thus, it is not controlled by any single company. Ericsson, Nokia, Motorola, and Unwired Planet (formerly Phone.com) founded the WAP Forum in the summer of 1997 in order to define an industry-wide specification for developing applications over wireless communications networks.  The WAP standards and specifications that were begun in 1997, are continually being improved today.  They now define a set or stack of protocols in application, session, transaction, security, and transport layers, which enable operators, manufacturers, and applications providers to meet the challenges of a wireless network. Thus, the WAP stack of protocols covers the whole process of delivering content wirelessly: from the definition of the languages used (WML and WMLScript) for creating and laying out the actual content, to the specification of security measures, to the actual transport of content across a network.  There are now over one hundred members and companies that are members of the WAP Forum and countless more that are developing services and applications for mobile devices.  If you would like information about the WAP Forum, you can visit their homepage at http://www.wapforum.org.    Top   

What WAP can provide:

WAP can improve existing cellular services (such as providing a graphical interface to voice mail) while also offering new services and applications (such as account management and billing inquiries). The advantage of WAP is that it can be used to develop and introduce these new applications and services quickly and easily without the need for additional infrastructure or modifications to the phone.  

WAP provides users with easy and secure access to the Internet and services such as messaging, banking, and entertainment through their mobile devices.  Intranet information such as corporate databases can also be accessed via WAP technology.  WAP's push capability will enable providers to use WAP in order to deliver real time information to their customers. This push mechanism affords a distinct advantage over the WWW because it can be provided when users need the information most and not when they have access to their computers.  For example, WAP's push technology can enable an electronic coupon to be sent to mobile users when they are in the proximity of a participating retailer.  Thus, WAP represents tremendous potential for information providers, mobile operators, and mobile users.    Top

WAP requirements, the Gateway, and WML:

WAP is supported by all operating systems. The operating systems that are specifically engineered for portable phones and handheld devices include PalmOS, EPOC, Windows CE, FLEXOS, OS/9, and JavaOS.

WAP has two key components: the WAP Gateway and the micro-browser. Together these enable mobile phones to interact with the Internet. The gateway connects phones to the Internet, while the micro-browser uses an XML document format, the Wireless Mark-Up Language (WML), to display pages. The gateway acts as a proxy, interpreting requests from phone micro-browsers and retrieving content via standard HTTP requests. Thus content providers with Web servers don’t need to modify their servers in any way in order to deliver WAP applications, but they only need to translate the HTML and redesign pages using WML.  A WAP gateway will compile WML pages for more efficient transmission to wireless devices.  The micro-browser is implemented in a mobile handset, and is designed to handle WML code using the phone's standard interface.  As a result, displays are three or more lines, and interfaces will vary from phone to phone and manufacturer to manufacturer.  Nokia, Unwired Planet (UP), Ericsson, and Motorola develop micro-browsers.

The WML language (an XML application) was specifically created for wireless devices and their small screens and one-hand navigation systems that do not use a standard keyboard.  WAP also supports WMLScript. It is similar to JavaScript, but makes minimal demands on memory and CPU power because it does not contain many of the unnecessary functions found in other scripting languages.    Top

How WAP protocols are optimized for the wireless web:

Internet standards such as hypertext markup language (HTML), HTTP, TLS and transmission control protocol (TCP) are inefficient over mobile networks because they require large amounts of mainly text-based data to be sent over a network.  This requirement for large amounts of data to be transmitted is not optimal for mobile networks because mobile networks currently are characterized by lower bandwidths then normal web networks.   In addition, any protocols with large data transmission requirements must overcome the difficult challenge of intermittent coverage, another characteristic of wireless networks.  

WAP utilizes other Internet standards such as XML, user datagram protocol (UDP), and IP.  These protocols are based on Internet standards such as hypertext transfer protocol (HTTP), but have been optimized for the unique constraints of the wireless environment.  WAP utilizes binary transmission for greater compression of data and is optimized for long latency and low bandwidth. WAP sessions cope with intermittent coverage and can operate over a wide variety of wireless transports. Thus the constraints that WAP is able to overcome are wireless networks that have less bandwidth and less connection stability.

HTML Internet standards are also not optimal for the wireless web because this standard was not designed for small screen displays and limited input options.  WAP does not use HTML to display web sites, but instead uses WML and the wireless markup language script (WMLScript).  WML and WMLScript make optimum use of small display screens where navigation is usually performed with one hand.  Furthermore, WAP standards are scalable and can fit into the two-line text displays on the most basic devices to the full graphic screens on the latest smart phones.    Top

The future of WAP . . .

The collaborative efforts of the WAP Forum have developed a continually evolving set of protocols, which together provide a common environment for the development of wireless services in a worldwide market.  WAP provides to the wireless world what the computer has provided to the office and home.  Mobile users, until now, have been forced to accept relatively basic levels of functionality.  With WAP, they will have access at any time and in any place to the Internet and data that has previously been restricted to the computer.  WAP also opens up new realms of possibilities and opportunities that have never before been imagined.

With over 75 percent of the world's key mobile device manufacturers already involved in the WAP Forum, the drive toward new and innovative wireless units is fast and furious. With the continual enhancements to the WAP devices and the fact that numerous content providers are launching new WAP sites each day, wireless web users are continuing to find WAP offers all the advantages of being able to access the Internet, but none of the disadvantages of having to be constrained to wired-bound networks.

Competition in this industry is present.  For examples, there is the subscriber identity module (SIM) toolkit.  Some of the service sectors use SIMs or smart cards in their wireless devices.  There is also Windows CE a multitasking, multithreaded operating system from Microsoft designed for including or embedding mobile and other space-constrained devices.  In addition, Sun Microsystems is developing PersonalJava™ and a JavaPhone™ API, which is embedded in a Java™ virtual machine on the handset.  Despite the competition, WAP’s future is bright because WAP offers a number of advantages over these other methods.  First, WAP is an open and independent standard.  In other words, it is not vendor specific.  WAP’s transport mechanisms are optimized for wireless data networks. Furthermore, WAP applications are downloaded from the same servers that deliver to wired networks, which enables WAP sites to be developed and introduced quickly, as opposed to embedded software technique of its competitors.    Top

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