Wireless Application Protocol

By Stan Miastkowski, PC World |  Development

The Web Via WAP

When you connect to a wireless network and request access to a Web site that supports WAP, your mobile phone sends the request via radio waves to the nearest cell, where it's routed through the Internet to a gateway server. The gateway server translates the request into the Web's standard HTTP format and sends it to the Web site.

When the site responds, it returns HTML documents to the gateway server, where they're converted to WML and routed to the nearest antenna. The antenna sends the data via radio waves to your WAP device and the microbrowser displays the page.

Because of their graphics and other content, however, not all standard HTML Web pages can be translated to WML. In order to make a Web site WAP-ready, Web designers need to limit their content using specific guidelines. Because of these restrictions, only a small percentage of the Web is available to WAP-enabled wireless devices.

The Web, Wirelessly

The promise and the practice of WAP are far apart. WAP mobile phones haven't been hot sellers. Jim Cummiskey, director of consulting for Mobile Insights, estimates that only about 5 percent of the approximately 350 million mobile phones in use worldwide support WAP. None of the analysts we spoke to would guess how many of those WAP phones are actually used for Web access.

And because designers have to create Web pages that adhere to strict guidelines in order for them to work with WAP, you can access only a fraction of Web sites with a WAP phone. Mobile Insight's Cummiskey says that of the approximately one billion Web sites, only about 1.5 million are WAP-enabled.

WAP phones are widely available from all major mobile-phone makers including Motorola and Nokia, and usually retail for between $150 and $250 (when purchased along with a wireless service contract). A WAP phone may have a few extra keys to help you navigate a page, but the numeric keypad is still the main means of sending requests.

To get onto the Net, you'll need a Wireless Web service such as Sprint PCS Wireless Web. At press time, services and coverage are spotty, mainly limited to major U.S. metropolitan areas. And not all carriers offer WAP services in all areas.

Additionally, wireless Web services fetch a premium over voice-only mobile plans, although that's expected to change. For example, Sprint PCS Wireless Web costs $49.99 a month for 300 minutes of use, $10 more than voice-only service.

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