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A WAP Primer

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In this first section in the WAP article series, authors Chris Bennett and Frank Coyle introduce you to WAP, the powerful technology designed to help developers and network architects meet the challenges of a wireless network.

This is the first in a series of articles that will help you understand and take advantage of WAP—a powerful new technology for mobile Internet access. The intended audience for this series includes software developers, architects, and project managers. WAP, the Wireless Application Protocol™, is specifically designed to meet the challenges of the wireless Internet. These challenges include narrow bandwidth networks and mobile client devices with limited capabilities. WAP provides new protocols that, unlike standard Internet protocols, work well over cellular networks. WAP also specifies an environment that is tailored for mobile cellular phones and other hand-held devices. This environment includes mark-up and scripting languages that, although similar to HTML and JavaScript, are tailored for small screens and limited input. In a nutshell, WAP gives us the technology to build the mobile Internet.

The Mobile Internet

The mobile Internet is a merger of two pervasive technologies: wireless networks and the Internet. As shown in Figure 1, growth in both areas is high, and estimates are that wireless usage—worldwide—will double to more than one billion people by 2003.

Figure 1

Internet and Wireless Growth (Source: IDC, June 1999 and Dataquest, October 1999)

The growth in digital mobile subscribers is driven, in part, by new uses for wireless networks. Messaging services and financial transactions have been common in Europe and Japan for years, and access to the Internet is already an accepted component of many mobile subscription packages. The U.S. has been slower to adopt these services, due in part to the large number of incompatible cellular network standards. This is changing, however, and by 2003, it is predicted that Internet-enabled mobile devices will dominate the conventional wireless phone by a large margin (see Figure 2). In fact, researchers at International Data Corp. estimate that by 2004, wireless access will be the primary type of Internet connection. Obviously, the stage is set for a new Internet revolution—a move to a truly worldwide Web with access from anywhere, to anywhere! WAP is one of the primary enablers in this new world, and you will want to know more about it.

Figure 2

Smart Versus Conventional Wireless Phone Usage (Source: DataComm Research)

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