An alliance to accelerate the growth of WAP services set up by four of the world's largest smart card manufacturers was announced Tuesday. Using established SIM technology the SIMalliance will push limited WAP browsing functionality over ordinary GSM handsets
The move could potentially offer mobile Internet browsing to 24 million mobile phone users in Britain alone.
Putting basic WAP browsing functionality on SIM cards means users will not have to upgrade to specialised handsets which currently cost in the region of £150.
Following the announcement Virgin said it would be the first UK operator to introduce SIM-based WAP browsing for all its subscribers by spring. "No one is eschewing WAP," said a Virgin spokesman, "But this is opening up the Internet completely to mobile phones, it's Silicon Socialism."
The alliance said it will produce global open specifications to drive mass market take-up of SIM-based applications and services and announced its first specification, S@T (SIM @lliance Toolbox) for interoperable systems.
Fully WAP-enable phones contain the browser technology within the handset itself with the SIM card merely performing user identification functions, holding names and numbers. Using S@T enables the browser to sit on the SIM, with a translator at the WAP gateway that strips down WML or HTML content to be interpreted by the browser.
This technology will allow network operators to offer a version of their WAP services to all subscribers and act as a catalyst for uptake of the WAP standard.
Gemplus, smartcard manufacturer and one of the alliance founder members, assured ZDNet UK News, "This is not a conflicting technology." A Gemplus spokeswoman added: "WAP so far has stood for 'Where Are the Phones?' This is a bridge technology and will act as a catalyst for WAP technology."
And a bridge to full WAP technology is vital if it is to thrive. Jake Saunders, regional director at telecoms analysts Stragis Group agreed. He said that stripped down WAP-style services will be crucial in "starting the bandwagon effect" necessary for the technology to reach the mass market.
Content providers, network operators and hardware manufacturers have already put in a great deal of investment into WAP technology. Saunders believes companies will be keen to offer these services as "the quicker you get people using WAP services the more successful you'll be and you can't afford to fail. It's all about priming the market."