WAP Makes Comeback

By Carmen Nobel  |  Posted 2002-10-14

WAP Makes Comeback

A slew of upcoming handsets from U.S.-based companies Motorola Inc. and LG InfoComm U.S.A. Inc. indicate that the industrys interest in multimedia messaging, with features such as built-in cameras, video streaming capabilities and graphics/text integration, may breathe new life into an old browser technology called WAP.

Motorola plans by the end of the year to roll out the T720i, a full-color flip phone that includes a detachable camera with 180-degrees lens rotation.

Images are stored on the phone, which includes photo album and slide show features, so there is no memory needed on the camera.

The phone is designed to work with Sony Ericsson Mobile Communications ABs and Nokia Corp.s MMS (Multimedia Messaging Service) standard, so that users can take a picture and send it as an instant message. It will be available from GSM (Global System for Mobile Communications) carriers in the United States, although officials acknowledged that MMS has been a slow sell here.

"What were really seeing is MMS being picked up by the European carriers," said Dean Sirakides, director of market intelligence at Motorolas personal communications sector, in Libertyville, Ill. MMS is generally supported by carriers that operate GSM networks and their iterations, and GSM is the prevailing standard in Europe.

Another iteration may fare better in the United States because its based on technology inherent in many phones.

EMS, or Enhanced Messaging Service, combines text and graphics and uses a WAP (Wireless Application Protocol) browser.

Motorolas upcoming A830 flat-screen color display phone, which also includes a camera as well as an MP3 player, supports MMS and EMS via the WAP 2.0 browser.

In this way, WAP has made a quiet comeback even though early WAP browsers were a disappointment.

"I never use the term WAP," said Harry Kargman, president and CEO of Kargo Inc., a wireless application development company in New York. "I say that the EMS solution we use uses the enhanced capabilities of the embedded browsers already on the device. Remember, WAP has a really bad connotation, but a browser is a browser, and the technology is not inherently bad."

Handset vendors now say that current versions of WAP give the technology the promise it was not able to deliver on initially.

"WAP 2.0 now supports color," said Curtis Wick, director of product testing and technical support at San Diego-based LG InfoComm U.S.A., a subsidiary of LG Electronics Inc., of Seoul, South Korea.

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CDMA (Code Division Multiple Access) carriers such as Verizon Wireless Inc. and Sprint PCS Group have plans for EMS, supported largely by wireless technology company Qualcomm Corp., which owns most of the patents for CDMA.

Boosted by a new branding deal with Verizon that lets LG InfoComm put its own name on Verizon phones, the company has plans for several new products in the next few months that take advantage of the WAP 2.0 browser and the upcoming CDMA 1xRTT networks, which support EMS messages more efficiently than current CDMA networks.

"The only problem with the EMS solution is that it mostly runs over circuit-switched data today, which means that the more users, the more the network drain—it ties up exactly the same network resources as a voice call," Kargos Kargman said. "This is being solved by 1xRTT."

"The lack of backward compatibility between MMS handsets and non-MMS handsets will stifle MMS growth," said Nitesh Patel, an analyst at Strategy Analytics Inc., in Boston. "Without a mass of users with MMS handsets, it is unlikely MMS will take off rapidly. In this respect, EMS does have the advantage of being backward-compatible with current WAP devices.

"However, with MMS allowing for greater sophistication than EMS, EMS has a short window of opportunity. Users will prefer the added sophistication of MMS," Patel said.

LG InfoComms fall lineup for 1xRTT includes the VX4400, a dual-display phone with a full-color display. Along with supporting WAP 2.0, the phone includes Global Positioning System location-based technology; support for Qualcomms BREW, or Binary Runtime Environment for Wireless, development platform; basic text-only Short Message Service; and 64MB of internal memory. The phone can be programmed to change the color of the display when a call is coming in, and it includes the ability to record up to 2 minutes of the callers side of a conversation. Officials said that Verizon wants to start selling the phone by the end of the month but that next month is more likely.

LG InfoComm has tentative plans to offer next year a camera phone in the United States that is currently marketed in South Korea. The KH5000 is a flip phone that features its camera in the phones hinge. Designed for third-generation CDMA 1xEVDO (Evolution Data Optimized) networks, the phone can transmit data at 2.4MB per second, although the future of 1xEVDO is unclear.

The company has also developed a combination phone personal digital assistant called the VX9000.

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