Portals face a WAP standards mess

Every combination of phone and portal creates a different result -- and many WAP sites fail to work at all, finds a new study

One in four WAP sites are riddled with faults making them inaccessible to users, says a new report from WAP development portal AnyWhereYouGo.com.

The research suggests that simple errors in the coding of WML (Wireless Mark-up Language) pages, which are used to build WAP sites, are responsible for this grim situation. Twenty-eight percent of the 50 sites tested by AnyWhereYouGo.com are said to contain such errors.

The problem, according to AnywhereYouGo.com, is a lack of industry standardisation. "There are 27 announced WAP phones and more than a half dozen gateways in use today," said UK director of AnywhereYouGo.com James Pearce. "Since each product has unique characteristics, every combination of device and gateway can cause unpredictable results and differing application performance."

Senior mobile analyst with IDC Europe, Tim Sheedy agrees that standardisation is a major problem for developers. "There is the issue that a lot of sites are not tested on different phones. At the moment a developer has to write a site and test it themselves," he said.

In conjunction with the report, AnywhereYouGo has launched an independent testing service through its Wireless Internet Labs. Also released is a free WAP emulator that allows developers to test sites on different devices without the need for a WAP portal.

"The services we're launching today, both lab-based and online, respond to the critical industry-wide need for independent testing," said CEO of AnywhereYouGo.com Lee Wright. "Developers at systems integrators, agencies, and new WAP start-ups have repeatedly told us about the problems they face moving from development to deployment."

WML is also more precise than that HTML, and often something as simple as a misplaced space can ruin the appearance of a WAP page. This is because it is an XML-compliant language.

Wireless Application Protocol (WAP) technology is designed to allow Internet pages to be delivered the new generation of WAP phones and this is a sobering report for those who hope WAP will revolutionise the way the Internet is used and particularly boost the uptake of e-commerce.

Sheedy, however, says that the next version of WAP will put an end to these teething troubles. "I believe this is a temporary issue," he said. "WAP 1.2 will solve it because it is a more strictly defined standard."

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