Wireless Application Protocol Draws Criticism

SAN MATEO (03/10/2000) - EVEN AS SUPPORT among vendors for the WAP (Wireless Application Protocol) grows, so do claims that the wireless transmission technology is insufficient -- and many of those criticisms are coming from the WAP Forum's own membership ranks.

David Rensin, CTO at Aether Systems, a handheld infrastructure developer in Owings Mills, Md., ignited a fierce debate at this week's Mobile Insights conference in Palm Desert, Calif., when he declared that "WAP is dead."

Chief among his complaints was the necessity for rewriting the Web sites in WML (Wireless Markup Language) for every device a WAP-enabled Web site is sent to.

WML is used as a technique to get content from an HTML Web site using WAP onto small-screen devices.

"You have to rewrite the same Web site for a four-line cell phone display and again for an eight-line display," Rensin said.

Aether's ScoutWeb technology, which it gained this week with the acquisition of Riverbed Technologies, uses a technology that competes with WAP in order to downsize Web sites for PDAs (personal digital assistants) and cell phones.

"The problem [with WAP] is content. Redoing a Web page for multiple sites on different devices is a nightmare," according to Rensin.

Microsoft, another member of the forum, believes that WAP is a transitional solution.

"I want to write XML and have XML in my business applications. To their credit [WAP is] opening [e-business] for low bandwidth devices, but moving forward it is a different story," said Phil Holden, group product manager for Windows CE at Microsoft.

While one analyst said he found Rensin's comments a bit extreme, he did admit there is room for improvement.

"I wouldn't go so far as to say WAP is dead. But the idea that an IT manager or Webmaster should have to learn WML to create a WAP site is hogwash," said Rob Enderle, chief analyst at Giga Information, in San Jose, Calif. "The idea that WML replaces HTML is silly."

According to Enderle, there are enough differences between WML and HTML that it is not a "slam dunk," that if you are familiar with one, you know the other.

"Right now, Yahoo has to write 20 versions of its site," Enderle said.

Meanwhile, the WAP Forum is not surprisingly defending its turf.

"Saying that WAP is dead is a great exaggeration," said Scott Goldman, CEO of the WAP Forum. "I think when you have a standard like WAP in development you will always get people to try to punch holes in the standard, for whatever reason."

Goldman said that the criticism of WAP's lack of robustness is unfounded, and he cautioned against getting too excited about next-generation, high-bandwidth technologies such as 3G.

"When you have high bandwidth, those systems will be in demand from users," Goldman said. "But WAP will continue because it helps with spectrum management and will allow room for growth in both voice and data."

Lost in the standards debate are the content providers, whose Web sites are directly affected by whichever standard emerges victorious. Most are forced to comply with any and all delivery methods if they want their content to be available anytime, anywhere.

"We have to take a neutral approach," said Nina Zagat, co-founder of the Zagat Survey restaurant guides. "We want to be able to work with all of them."

WAP alternatives

Vendors are turning to other wireless ways to convert Web site content for presentation on a PDA.

* Aether Systems ScoutWeb uses a rules-based system to define each device.

* EveryPath Intelligent Filtration technology is an ASP that converts Web content for handheld access.

* Marble.com uses a terminal/server technology similar to X Windows or Citrix to take Windows applications and Web sites and send them over low bandwidth services to handhelds.

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