Tapping into the Web from your phone won't really be practical until cell phones are WAP-enabled. This funny-sounding standard (it stands for wireless application protocol) allows various types of wireless communication devices (cell phones, pagers, handheld PCs) to send and receive information over the Internet, regardless of manufacturer or network operator.
Best of all, forget about browsing text-only pages from a lackluster list of participating sites. A WAP-enabled phone will run a WAP-enabled microbrowser (the way any Windows PC runs any Windows-compliant browser), which will let you access any WAP-supporting Web site. And there should be no lack of such sites. WAP's WML (wireless markup language) uses the XML standard that's widely used in today's Web sites.
Nor should WAP-enabled cell phones be in short supply.
"This is the next thing on the horizon," said Becky Diercks, an analyst at Cahners In-Stat. "Look for every phone to be WAP-enabled very soon. And once that happens, look for phones to focus more on screens and interfaces."
Wireless phone manufacturers Ericsson, Nokia, Motorola, and Qualcomm all plan to release WAP-enabled phones by mid-2000.
Armed with a cleverly designed screen and a WAP microbrowser, your phone will finally rival the desktop PC as a Net access device. Besides letting you browse the Web on the go, WAP phones will support services like e-mail, e-commerce transactions, electronic banking, and even advanced telephony features like call- accept, which lets you decide whether to take an incoming call.
Around the same time that WAP will make its way into cell phones, another important technology called Bluetooth will come into play. Bluetooth creates a universal, short-range radio link between all types of electronic devices, allowing them to instantly and wirelessly connect with each other.
"I like to think of it as next-generation infrared," but much more powerful, said Ericsson's Ted Browne. Since Bluetooth uses the 2.4GHz radio frequency instead of infrared light, the devices don't need to be in the same line of sight. In fact, they can be as far away as 30 feet.
With a small Bluetooth chip embedded in it, your phone can automatically detect other Bluetooth devices that are close by. If you've got some new numbers stored in your cell phone's call log, for instance, the next time you're near your PC, the two devices can automatically sync and exchange that info—you don't have to do anything. As more Bluetooth products appear, your phone will be able to do things like pay for gas with the touch of a button or deactivate your home security system as your car approaches the garage. And with 700 companies already behind the Bluetooth initiative, the possibilities are endless.
Further on the horizon, but equally significant, is the combination of GPS (global positioning satellite) systems and cell phones. This pairing primarily aims to be an electronic 911 solution, allowing law-enforcement officials to know exactly where emergency cell phone calls originate. Of course, once cell phones have GPS chips in them, there'll be no lack of location services, which would allow a business traveler to find the nearest Kinko's or car-rental agency when visiting an unfamiliar city.