Europe not ready for WAP

Don't get too excited by the hype surrounding WAP, says IDC. It's going to be a while before it really fulfils its promise.

According to a report from analyst firm IDC, the uptake of the fledgling Wireless Application Protocol (WAP) is being hobbled by several factors that will prevent it taking off until at least 2001.

One of the main inhibitors according to the report is the growth of Short Messaging Services (SMS), which allows mobile phone users to send text messages. By the end of 1999 SMS will have achieved 11 percent penetration in Western Europe. By 2003 IDC predicts a rise to 39 percent, compared WAP's 14 percent.

"People are already getting most of the services they want with SMS and the first WAP services are likely to be very similar," said IDC European Telecoms analyst Tim Sheedy. But far from cannibalising WAP's market, Sheedy reckons SMS services could eventually act as a driver for WAP services, suggesting consumers will eventually think of their mobile phones as capable of more than just voice services that will make "users crave more sophisticated data services".

Another potential hurdle to WAP enabled devices is the introduction of General Packet Radio Service (GPRS), which runs at speeds of up to 115kb/s. WAP runs at 8kb/s. This could result in confusion for consumers when replacing handsets, particularly given the widespread support for WAP. "There will be a proportion of users who will use their laptop or mobile PC device to access full Web functionality using GPRS," says Sheedy. "They may not want to bother with the more limited abilities of a WAP-enabled mobile."

Despite its widespread support among hardware vendors, the lack of content available on WAP services will, in the short term, discourage interest. "Although Yahoo is WAP enabling a lot of its content, it will be a while before every developer follows suit," says Sheedy, "it will initially be the finance and service companies who will drive the increase in WAP content."