HDML or WAP plus WML? IT disaster looms over mobile microbrowser wars

InfoWorld |  Development

Wireless World

NOKIA AND ERICSSON are about to unleash a slew of cell phones for the holiday selling season; these will be the first wave of new models with a WAP (Wireless Application Protocol) browser.

Now all the current phones say they have WAP browsers, but it really ain't so. More than 90 percent of these cell phones sold in the United States use the Phone.com browser, which is only partially WAP-compatible. Phone.com actually uses HDML (Handheld Device Markup Language) for the presentation layer. A full WAP browser implementation, which is what Nokia and Ericsson plan to introduce, uses WML (Wireless Markup Language) for the presentation layer.

The difference spells trouble. Maybe it won't qualify as Armageddon, but you are about to witness a meltdown in accessing and synchronizing content over wireless devices.

If things continue as they are now, IT departments or ASPs (application service providers) hosting wireless business-to-business or business-to-consumer sites will have to support at least two versions of the same content, one for HDML and one for WML. This means that whoever is hosting the site also will have to keep versions simultaneously synchronized as content changes.

One industry player said, "There is some level of requirements on maintaining dual sites to support both browsers."

Sounds like a nightmare.

All the wireless network carriers have HDML-enabled gateways to deliver the HDML content to cell phones. Phone.com has about 80 carriers signed up for the sum of about $3 million to $4 million per gateway license fee, say my sources. Because every phone sold in this country connects to a specific gateway, the Nokia and Ericsson phones will have to connect to carriers with WAP/WML.

To prove the point: If you want to change wireless carriers you have to throw out your current cell phone and buy one that is made to access the new carrier's network. The exception is GSM (Global System for Mobile communications), which allows you to change SIM (subscriber information module) cards and keep the phone. So as carriers begin to deploy WAP gateways that use WML, they will need content that uses WML for the presentation layer on the cell phones.

HDML content cannot be read on WML phones and vice versa. Users will see a message such as "The format or type of information is not correctly formatted."

Basically the error message means that whatever browser you are using to access the site is not compatible. Certainly companies will deploy technology to detect the device and the markup language required and present the page accordingly. But to do that you need to write the content in multiple formats.

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