Wireless app protocol builds momentum

The past few weeks have seen a flurry of new products and services for wireless phones based on the Wireless Application Protocol (WAP). But analysts and users say enterprise adoption is still a while off.

Last week alone, TD Waterhouse Group in New York said it would offer stock trading from WAP-enabled phones; Harris Bankcorp in Chicago announced market trials of wireless banking, including access to account balances and fund transfers; Swissair AG in Zurich said it would let its passengers check in wirelessly; and Comtex News Network, joined the ranks of vendors offering personalised news feeds.

In addition, the first enterprise services are appearing: Infowave Software in Burnaby, British Columbia, said it would offer WAP access to Microsoft Exchange servers; Maconomy in Copenhagen introduced a WAP front end to its time- and expense-report software; and middleware vendor Iona Technologies in Dublin said it would build WAP support into its iPortal Server so wireless users can access corporate portals.

WAP services on the Internet will grow from a few hundred today to thousands within the next six months, said David Hayden, an analyst at research firm Mobile Insights.

"Everybody's been waiting on the sidelines to see whether this would take off. But now we've seen Microsoft join the fray, and that has been a wake-up call," said Hayden. Earlier this month, Microsoft announced its Mobile Explorer software, which supports WAP.

How Soon?

Hayden predicted that the next three months will bring more enterprise-ready services such as e-mail, contact synchronisation and scheduling. But enterprises may be slow on the uptake.

"I'm sure [WAP is] going to be hot, but not right now," said Alex Hu, a senior technology officer at The Chase Manhattan in New York. Hu said the company is trying to figure out how to leverage the Palm beyond its use as a personal information manager.

WAP phones aren't yet widely deployed in the US. "Right now, the enterprise is focusing on integrating the PalmPilot. Smart phones in the enterprise are years off," Hayden said.

Some analysts are even more skeptical about WAP. Using the protocol to access corporate networks "doesn't make any sense at all," said Elliott Hamilton, senior vice president at market research firm Strategis Group in Washington. Enterprises will wait until high-bandwidth wireless Internet access becomes available in about two years, Hamilton said. WAP owes its success to its ability to work well on low-bandwidth connections.