What is the point of WAP?



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What is the point of WAP?

When I needed to renew my mobile phone contract I wanted a phone that would talk via IR to my laptop and pretend to be a real modem. I think that at the time there were two phones around that could do this. The Motorola Timeport and the Nokia 7110. In the end I got the Nokia, as it has a nicer screen, is cheaper, and I don't think that tri-band is really at all important to me.

This new phone of mine has WAP capability. Now this has been advertised mainly by BT Cellnet as "The internet on a phone". Well it really isn't. Wap is shit. It is not really an Internet connection. You can only use it to access WAP sites, specially written in WML. When accessing these it is really slow, and keeps on losing connections. This is not including the fact that it is really quite expensive.

However, I have found at least one positive use for WAP, and the WAP sites out there. This is the WAP interface to RailTrack's timetable system, and allows me to check the timetable for connections when I am on a train without calling up the rail enquiry line. That said, it is probably cheaper to phone the people at the moment, but it wasn't in November when Breathe.com were wasting their venture capital on giving free WAP calls. Maybe the future will bring cheaper calls and lots more useful WAP sites. Alan Cox has already written a WAP->IRC gateway (see his diary entry for December 9th 2000), though I don't think that is really that useful and I haven't seen it released. There is also a WAP plugin for irssi the IRC client, though I haven't used it.

The Future

So, what will WAP do in the future? I really don't know the answer to this. I suspect that when phones have higher spec processors and higher bandwidth links, WAP will be replaced by a real internet connection. However until that time will it be useful? Well, the main thing I see in it is that it is encouraging large companies to put together low-bandwidth sites, with thought into navigation and maybe this will rub off on the designers of webpages.

WML, so what is it?

WML is an XML schema for describing pages so that they can be displayed on a WAP phone. The WML code is parsed by the WAP gateway and converted to a bytecode before being sent to the phone. This is to save on size for the download and the memory on the phone, and also so that the phone client doesn't need to do the XML validation.

A WML page is a "deck" of "cards", with each card a screenfull of information and the ability to move between cards. The idea is that your phone downloads a deck, then you can browse that deck without needing a connection. However in practise, you are still connected whilst you are browsing the deck, so you gain little there.

The people who wrote the WML spec appear not to know too much about security models and will, in a lot of cases, trust the client. For example, there is a case where a given card in a deck can be locaked until a password is entered. This is relying on the client application (in many cases a phone, but not exclusively so) to check the password and keep the data hidden untill it is entered. This is not secure, as I could write myself a WAP browser that didn't bother asking for the password, or if I really couldn't be bothered to do that, I could take a memory dump of someone else's WAP browser application and take the page out of that.

Last updated: 18:25, 23 Jul 2003 Link..