Wireless standards support slipping

The PC industry says it will deliver on its promise next year for seamless access to data anytime, anywhere, but wireless capability -- a key component to make pervasive computing a reality -- may still come up short.

The Wireless Application Protocol (WAP), which includes both a communications stack to transport data via the air and the Wireless Markup Language (WML) for publishing information on small screens using WAP-enabled minibrowsers, appears to have widespread support. WAP forum members include Nokia, Ericsson, and Motorola. IBM and Microsoft also support the protocol.

In early 2000, the WAP forum will introduce Version 1.2 of the technology, which will add many additional features.

However, companies supporting WAP are also supporting alternative technologies that are promising a single HTML development environment, rather than backing WML and HTML, eliminating the need for additional infrastructure, such as a WAP gateway, as well as adding the capability of delivering desktop corporate applications to a small device without compromise.

Microsoft officials last week announced, for example, a partnership with Ericsson to look beyond WAP to HTML-enabled devices.

"A major part of the Ericsson-Microsoft deal is to evolve [WAP] more in the XML [Extensible Markup Language] direction," said Phil Holden, group product manager for Windows CE at Microsoft, in Redmond, Washington.

Until then, Ericsson intends to offer mobile handsets early next year that will conform to WAP 1.1 standards, as well as technology developed by Microsoft and Ericsson.

The need for WAP to transcode data from WML to HTML has its own set of problems.

In announcing the Solution Partnership Center program for software developers to design applications for wireless computing, an IBM spokesperson was up front about one problem last week.

"The success of the translation to a handheld device depends very much on the layout of the Web site being transcoded. Web sites that are particularly graphics-heavy experience fragmentation as transcoded information is spoon-fed to the handheld device," said Jim Fletcher, senior technology staff member at IBM's Enterprise Network Computing Software Division, in Research Triangle Park, N.C.

Officials at Citrix, the technology provider behind the Independent Computing Architecture (ICA) protocol that is used in Microsoft's Windows Terminal software, believe an ICA solution that lets users view a desktop application by scrolling on a small screen offers a better solution for corporate users.

A Citrix client is available now for Windows CE devices. A Citrix client is in alpha development for Symbian's Epoc OS, the operating system that will be deployed on many handsets and Palm OS devices by the end of next year, according to Martin Duursma, vice president of computing appliance products at Citrix.

Due to limited screen size, developing applications for a mobile phone is difficult, according to Gerry Purdy, founder of Mobile Insights, in Mountain View, Calif. And it will not improve until a graphical user interface designed for very small screens is created, Purdy said.

WAP upgrades coming for mobile phones

* Color screens

* Better graphics support

* Support for digital certificates and other types of authentication* Support for audio and video streaming to phones, including capability of reading MP3 audio files

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