Studies blame WAP for mobile phone woes

Two surveys say wireless application protocol is too confusing for cell phone users. WAP industry groups, however, point to other studies showing just the opposite
Written by Ben Charny, Contributor

Some cell phones are so hard to use that most people are abandoning the fancy features such as e-mail, according to two studies that put the blame on WAP.

More than 90 percent of the handsets on the market contain WAP (wireless application protocol) programming, a set of standards for cell phones. There are about 18 million WAP users worldwide, and close to 200 carriers have launched WAP or are in final testing, according to the WAP Forum, an industry group representing about 95 percent of the world's handset makers.

The Meta Group found between 80 percent and 90 percent of corporate customers of WAP phones have "indicated a wholly unsatisfactory experience with the level of effort required to obtain information exceeding the threshold for perceived value."

A survey by JD Power and Associates discovered that one in four WAP phone users in the United Kingdom were using WAP phones for something other than making phone calls or sending short text messages. Last year's survey found one out of every three WAP phone users were using their phones to do more than just make a phone call.

The surveys, both released Wednesday, are another round of bad news for WAP, which has been roundly criticised for being slow and clunky. The surveys also add more gloom to the telephone industry itself, which is spending billions of dollars to build high-speed networks that will let phone users do the same things the surveys found they aren't doing.

A representative for the WAP Forum wasn't taking the findings too seriously. WAP has also gotten relatively high marks for satisfaction among customers, according to studies recently conducted by Strand Consult and Teleconomy, the WAP Forum representative said.

The WAP Forum representative said the study from the Meta Group also may be flawed because it attributes things like slow network speed or log on problems to WAP, when in fact it might be the networks themselves that are to blame. "There have been so many studies that all say something different," the representative said.

The WAP Forum includes companies like Alcatel, AT&T, Hewlett Packard, IBM and Motorola.

Some analysts agree with the WAP Forum's assertion that perhaps WAP isn't entirely to blame for the dissatisfaction.

Most networks maintain a constant connection between the two devices that are communicating with each other. But that hogs the network, causing slowdowns for others. One of the complaints about WAP phones is that they operate very slowly.

Many carriers are now upgrading their networks, in the hopes of capturing some of the $1tn (about £680bn) in revenues forecast by 2010. Most will be using networks that will send the call or data in packets of information. That won't need a constant, bandwidth-hogging connection. This more efficient method is expected to ease the delay problems, according to Mark Winther, an analyst with IDC.

But many of these networks won't be ready until next year, at the earliest.

"There's no question that mobile operators are facing huge demand and huge growth and are eager to do more things," Winther said. "But current networks are not engineered for WAP."

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