A WAPping good time

Major vendors get behind wireless access protocol

Major vendors get behind wireless access protocol Vendors are manoeuvring, positioning and just plain copulating as they attempt to benefit from the accelerating emergence of wireless hand-held computing. The wireless access protocol (WAP) gained a strong head of steam at Telecom 99 recently in Geneva. WAP technologies allow devices to receive material from across the Internet through wireless connections and present the information on cellphones and palm-sized devices. As an example of what’s in store, Internet Auction house Ebay’s German subsidiary has just started offering its Internet auction service through WAP-enabled mobile phones. The phone network has eight million subscribers. Most major vendors are backing WAP and making any announcement that will demonstrate their deep commitment and early involvement. 3Com’s moves regarding its successful Palm division are particularly interesting as it needs to avoid being run over by cellphone companies stretching their legs. Of course, Palm is into WAP but more excitedly as 3Com looks to spin off Palm, which you may recall it bought as a start-up in the first place, it isn’t just relying on a public listing to give it impetus. It’s already licensing its technology base and one such product to come out, the Visor from a company called Handspring, features a nifty expansion slot that is similar in nature to a notebook’s PC Card. It looks like the PC market all over again. Another Palm deal, this time with Nokia, puts the Palm OS on top of the Symbian’s EPOC operating system (think Psion hand-helds) on a mobile phone. This "pen-based" phone is scheduled for 2001 and will be up against Microsoft CE-based phones that are due to be trialled in 2000. Adding to the mobile technology mix is Bluetooth. This is expected in products early next year and supported by 850 vendors. It allows short-range infrared communications around the office or between mobile devices and is often described as providing shorter cableless communication links that on-link to larger networks through cellphone or landline technology. While all this is going on, large traditional IT companies like IBM, Oracle and Compaq are busy positioning themselves on the server side of the equation. When you have millions of potential client systems flying around, you need massive raw high-reliability power running huge databases and able to serve up in an instant. In the "reseller" space, so to say, Internet service providers and the new breed of bureaus, application service providers, are looking to provide the service delivery that WAP will need. I’m just skimming the surface here. This is real, and you need to be thinking about it. We cover some of the action in our news focus on page 12. Note it will be relatively easy to turn the installed base of cellphones over to WAP given the trendy nature of the cellphone and the extra functionality that will be able to be offered. The market is far from saturated anyway. Send me your thoughts on the impending mobile/wireless revolution. Richard Wood is editor of Computerworld. Phone him at 0-9-377 9902. Send comments about this article to cw_letters@idg.co.nz richard_wood@idg.co.nz

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