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Full Speed Ahead for WAP?

Full Speed Ahead for WAP?

In the premier issue of WBT, I wrote about the question: What is it that slows down WAP traffic? My contention was that a significant part of the time that elapses from when a user clicks on a link till the return of a card is due in part to the Web/WAP server, and in part to the translation from WML to bytecode on its way through the gateway.

I quoted figures from a British phone carrier, who at one point said (no, not publicly!) that the time spent was an average of 40% of connect time.

Since then I have received an e-mail from Shannon Obermeyer of Cable & Wireless USA, asking me some specific questions in this regard. And no, I wasn't talking about the WAP gateway residing inside a firewall, as this isn't a very typical solution. Usually you connect to the gateway that your phone operator provides, and that's the one you use from then on. And as WAP is an open environment, this is the reason why it's not very usual for the content server to reside inside the same firewall as the gateway. This isn't the closed system of DoCoMo and their content providers, this is an environment where everybody who wants to can simply make a WAP service and offer content to the general public, regardless what particular gateway they use.

Is this a good thing? Not so much for the phone operators, as they "only" create revenue from the online time, or - as is beginning to be the case - from the amount of data sent to or received from a GPRS phone.

Is it a good thing for the content providers? Definitely. They get instant access to WAP users, although they still have to combat a hurdle, that of making users aware of their existence, and making them use their services.

Is it a good thing for the end user? Certainly. The amount and kind of content available is impressive, considering the relatively short time since WAP really "came out," and the limitations put on the application developers by the WAP Forum specifications.

Let me tell you about a personal experience in this respect: if I want to check my bank account, my bank has decided that the WAP gateway is such a security risk that they only allow their customers to access their WAP service through one specific WAP gateway. So if you're using another phone operator, you have to figure out how to set up access to the other gateway in order to do banking through your WAP terminal. And let's hope that your WAP terminal allows for the entry and use of multiple WAP gateways, or we're suddenly a lot nearer the closed system, as seen in Japan.

Personally I can't wait for the Wireless Identity Module to become part of the SIM card, so this more or less perceived WAP gateway security hole (do you really trust your phone operator so little?) disappears, and becomes a thing of the past. But of course, a bank is a conservative place which needs to look solid, or they may not be perceived as trustworthy. I wonder how many extra personnel at the bank's help desk this policy requires? And as one of their customers, I am one of the people who pay for it, which I don't appreciate.

It's All a Question of Speed
To return to the issue of speed: after receiving the mail from Obermeyer, I took the liberty of visiting Cable & Wireless USA's Web site. After a while I noticed that it took quite a while to load, so I looked at the watch. Nine minutes after that, the front page finally finished loading. This can be directly translated to the WAP environment: if a WAP service is so slow, what does it do to the end users' perception of WAP speed? Nothing good, that's for sure.

Much can be said for using Flash applets and lots and lots of graphics on a home page, but not that it speeds up the loading of a page - or that graphics speed up WAP card loading. It's experiences like this that make me happy that WAP is still only pictures, code, and a simple script language - it takes a lot of talent to make that kind of content very slow...and possibly a low hardware budget.

The Killer WAP App? Introducing "L-Business"
One really neat application my local phone operator, Mobilix (or is it Orange?), offers is location-based services. The so-called "L-Business" dimension. If suddenly I notice that I'm running out of gas, I can WAP to their service and ask for a gas station of the kind I use. The two nearest ones will be sent back to my WAP phone, with address and phone number in each case. I'm somewhat disappointed it doesn't give me compass directions as well, but I guess you can't have everything - yet.

But it gives me an inkling of what is to come. Did you vote lately? Did you have to go a long way in order to do so? Why did you have to? Why didn't the election come to you instead? No need for doubts about whom or what was elected, and the whole procedure is handled at the convenience of your own WAP terminal, from wherever is convenient for you.

Also, just how many credit cards do you carry around? How many do you think you will need in three years? And will your phone operator become your bank? Will we see a lot more mergers in that area? I would be interested to hear readers' thoughts. So if you have comments, suggestions, or even just press releases, please write to me at wap@sys-con.com.

More Stories By Hans-Henrik Ohlsen

Hans-Henrik T. Ohlsen, WAP editor of WBT, is a member of the Danish
Data Asociation, where he heads the Experience Exchange Group
on Wireless Applications (WAP, Bluetooth, 3G). Hans is also a member
of the Communications and Internet Council.

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