WAP Forum targets convergence

A WAP conference in Sydney yesterday has predicted that all human communication will eventually take place over wireless mobile networks.

In a world where many people still don't have running water, such statements may seem naive. Nonetheless, presenters at the conference displayed some intriguing visions of what may soon be delivered to those on the move, and of the projected scale of uptake.

The WAP Forum is a collaborative body which has undertaken the daunting task of making sure the whole thing works, over a variety of platforms and standards. Paul Schofield, Telstra's senior manager, product and business development, and a WAP Forum board member, delivered a "state of play" summary to the meeting.

Since 1997, the Forum has grown rapidly to 477 members, including carriers and about 97 per cent of the world's handset vendors, in total representing over 270 million customers. By 2003, it's expected that there will be about 500 million WAP devices worldwide.

The first key issue the Forum addressed was interoperability. That is, ensuring that handset A works with server B.

"The specification must be completely 'agnostic'," said Schofield. This is such an important issue, he added, that there is a whole working group within the Forum devoted exclusively to interoperability testing.

And it's not only a question of handsets. WAP-enabled devices may now include everything from phones to PDAs to pagers to PCs.

Even within one technology, such as GSM, there are a number of different potential "bearers", and the application needs to be able to select which of these to use.

The alphabet soup does, however, translate into real services. Using WTAI (wireless telephony application interface), for instance, users will be able to clip a phone number out of a page of text and then dial it. WTA will allow full call control: forwarding or diversion to voice mail, for example, all via a universal user interface.

As of last week, there are about 120,000 WAP internet sites in existence, Schofield said, and they're springing up "like mushrooms", with about 10,000 new sites coming online every month.

"Who knows?" he mused. "One of them could be the next AOL."

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