Most WAP (wireless application protocol) users can only view the content prescribed by their carrier. And at an average cost of 20 cents per minute, there's little reason to keep them interested, according to telecommunications industry analyst Paul Budde.
"WAP is crap -- there are a lot of problems in the area. It is a toy for companies to learn about. So far, none of the applications are compelling," Budde told ZDNet Australia. Budde said his prognosis is not surprising, because "in Germany and the UK, WAP has flopped. It is seen as a dead duck".
Stock quotes and horoscopes are the two most popular applications on the Cable & Wireless Optus WAP service, according to a CWO spokeswoman. However, with a small pool of subscribers, there's little to suggest these applications will increase WAP's appeal.
"There are maybe 5,000 users (in Australia), which means for a number one application there are maybe 500 people using it -- Geez! Why would people use WAP and pay high charges like 20 cents a minute for horoscopes?" Budde said the industry has to come back with better prices and better applications or WAP is doomed here.
Many WAP customers are restricted, one way or another, to viewing only the content provided by their telco's WAP portal. Enclosed services have been described as "walled gardens," where the territory within is closely guarded by carriers.
"It's very attractive for a telecom operator who wants to control the customer relationship," said Adrian Rischmueller, CEO of startup Jumbuck, which operates a Web to WAP interface and makes WAP-based chat software.
"Some telcos believe charging for content is more profitable than service charges, so the customer relationship is very important. The aim of the game is to make money serving content through the portal. We don't think it's a very fair scenario," Rischmueller said.
Cable & Wireless Optus operates its WAP portal as a walled garden and "started off this way, based on customer research," CWO general manager of Mobile, Internet and Data Finola Thompson said.
"Customers didn't want the Net recreated. We may change (the structure) as it evolves, but there is no immediate time frame on it," she said.
Thompson confirmed that some partners pay Cable & Wireless Optus to have their content available to WAP users. "There are a whole range of business models. They pay or we pay, based on what the content is, if they are already producing it," or other factors, she said.
Carriers are desperate to find a way to make money from WAP, according to Budde. "They turn to portals and try to get advertising. But advertisers soon find it doesn't work," he said. "If companies try to run closed portals it defeats the purpose. In Australia you can get away with murder in telecommunications, particularly with our self-regulatory system (but eventually) users will vote with their feet and go away."
For some WAP users it is the handsets themselves that restrict movement from portal to portal. The Motorola T2288 phone, for example, does not allow users to enter a URL. Instead users can only take links provided by the carrier.
The market-leading Nokia 7110 has no such restriction, but subscribers to Telstra's WAP service have been unable to connect with the handset due to what Telstra describes as "interoperability" issues between the carrier's server and the handset's browser, as reported by ZDNet Australia last week.