SINGAPORE - Wireless application protocol (WAP) dominated the Asia Pacific mobile Internet market in terms of distribution during the first quarter of this year, according to the latest market study by Gartner.
Analysts, however, said competing microbrowsers are gaining market share and could pose a threat to WAP's bid to become a strong industry standard.
"WAP has built a strong momentum within the industry, but it must develop similar momentum with customers or it will face pressure from competing solutions within six months," Sauk-Hun Song, industry analyst for Gartner's Mobile Communications Asia Pacific and Japan programme.
"In Singapore like several regional markets, the early WAP days has disappointed many users. The expectations have not been met. If improvements take too long, operators will consider alternative solutions. The i-mode solution, currently limited to Japan, may break into other markets and could challenge WAP."
Asian operators controlling 73 percent of Asia's first quarter 2000 subscriber base have installed gateways supporting WAP or HDML microbrowsers.
In Japan, NTT DoCoMo, which accounted for 17 percent of the total Asia Pacific subscribers during this period, used an alternative solution to WAP: Compact Hyper Text Markup Language (cHTML).
J-Phone Group, which has a five percent market share of the regional subscribers, used its own Mobile Mark Up Language (MML) based browser.
In Korea, KT Freetel and its recently acquired partner Hansol M.com (now KT.com) used Microsoft Explorer, which supports WAP. KT Freetel and KT.com both controlled as much as five percent of the regional subscribers in the first quarter.
"WAP support will undergo a significant test once it is introduced (in 2001 in Singapore) as service delivery is expected to be carried over to GSM's packet radio solution, General Packet Radio Service (GPRS) by many operators. GPRS should improve connection times to the levels which have proven attractive to Japanese and Korean subscribers, but operators will still need to ensure coverage and build a handset supported user base, which could take time," said Nicholas Khoo, industry analyst for Dataquest's Mobile Communication.
"In addition, GPRS implementations still have to clarify dimensioning, IP addressing, handset interoperability and billing issues. In the interim, and for certain services and segments, operators may also choose Short Message Service (SMS) as a bearer or extend the life of circuit-switched services through technologies that improve dial-up times or data throughput," Khoo said.
Gartner analysts said success at the gateway level might stimulate further sales at the server level. Ultimately WAP's success will, however, be driven by the delivery of successful applications to users and consequent subscriber uptake of services.
With operator support delivering the promise of large user bases, WAP and WAP-compatible application support is also building worldwide with both Phone.com and Nokia indicating that they have more than 100,000 registered developers worldwide.
"Phone.com grew its sales quickly. But more than half of the operators which consider or provide WAP services have purchased gateways from traditional infrastructure vendors. Nokia and Ericsson, in particular, have built strong momentum for their WAP portfolio during the first half of 2000," said Song.
Additional analysis is available in Gartner's report, "Mobile Internet Solutions: Will World Domination Be Decided in Asia/Pacific?"