Wireless Web - Is it hip ... or hype?

There was plenty of chest pounding at the Wireless Data Forum, where heady forecasts were the rule. Is it more than hype?
Written by Richard Shim, Contributor

The market for wireless applications-enabled products, still in its infancy, is about to undergo a boom.

This, according to executives gathered here to take the pulse of a nascent industry which is attracting keen attention from moguls and venture capitalists, carriers and consumers alike. Although so-called WAP products are already currently available, the range of offerings pales in comparison to what will be on tap in the next couple of months, officials here said.

A lot of attention was paid to the future direction the industry's 800-pound gorilla, Microsoft may take. And MS senior vice president Paul Gross did not hesitate to outline the software giant's ambitions, albeit without offering up much in the way of details. Gross indicated that Microsoft wants to allow users access regardless of time and place, and on any device. He said Microsoft plans to leverage its content and product platforms -- as well as existing carrier and technology partnerships -- to make good on that objective.

WAP-enabled phones, still relatively scarce items, are expected to be widely available during the second half of this year. Indeed, Motorola plans to make sure all its phones will be WAP-enabled by the end of the year.

WAP can be used on CDMA, TDMA or GSM -- which means it can also be used globally. Applications, which need only be developed once, can then be used on any type of device.

By 2004, the Yankee Group projects about 5 million WAP-enabled handsets in the market. But WAP will still need to hurdle the Web's relatively high bandwidth requirements. It takes anywhere from 2.5G to 3G for a device to offer enough capacity to browse the Net, transfer large files and download streaming video files.

Various carriers plan high bandwidth technologies. AT&T announced that it would forego 2.5G devices and prepare for 3G EDGE technology. All the carriers painted a picture of a day when data would be the primary wireless signal and voice would be secondary.

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