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WAP Forum CEO: Eye2Eye - Part 2

WAP Forum CEO defends WAP's long-term viability amidst competition and the advent of high-speed wireless systems
Written by Matthew Broersma, Contributor

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ZDNet UK: The other thing people might be wondering about, especially the content providers who are adopting WAP, is whether this is going to be around a year from now or five years from now. How big is the danger that Geoworks, for example, could start charging everybody that produces WAP services a royalty fee?

One WAP Forum member was quoted as saying if Geoworks succeeds, it would be the end for WAP, because no one would want to pay these fees on top of all their other wireless expenses. (For more on the licensing issue, see "WAP scrap causes flap".)

Scott Goldman: I'm going to see if I can answer this without dodging your question. The WAP Forum is not a licensing body. What people agree to when they agree to become members of the WAP Forum is to license their intellectual property at fair, reasonable and non-discriminatory rates. If you get a situation where somebody thinks that the license fees that someone is asking for are not fair, reasonable and non-discriminatory, they have two alternatives: they can either negotiate, or they can litigate. And most of the time it is done through negotiation.

Now, what you've heard in the public is about Geoworks and Phone.com. What you have not heard about in the public is all of the arrangements that have been going on in private in the WAP Forum, where all these companies have been contributing their intellectual property rights for either zero licensing or very low licensing fees.

Geoworks, for whatever reason, they decided to take their licensing issue public. They're entirely entitled to do that, it's a free country, a free world, free speech and all that. Whether or not that license fee will hold up under scrutiny, whether that patent is sustainable, is something that's probably going to be decided in this lawsuit between Phone.com and Geoworks. But the WAP Forum is not going to get involved in that. We're not a licensing body, we don't negotiate. What we're involved in is building the specification.

WAP isn't the only way people can get this stuff -- there are other ways of connecting wirelessly to the Internet, such as simply using Internet protocols as NTT's DoCoMo successfully does in Japan, or the "Web clipping" method used by Palm Computing. Microsoft's Pocket PC uses a standard Web browser. Sprint and Phone.com continue to use HDML (Handheld Device Markup Language) -- though they are phasing it out. What makes WAP more valuable than its competitors?

I'll address your first comment about HDML. HDML is not a standard, it is a proprietary technology of Phone.com. Phone.com is a founding member of the WAP Forum, and Phone.com is absolutely committed to WAP on a long-term basis. Phone.com developed HDML to have a product to sell to companies before WAP was developed and some companies have taken advantage of it. like Sprint, in the US, they use an HDML browser on their phone and have HDML gateways. But the new versions of Sprint phones that are being sold have dual-mode browsers in them that will work with HDML and with WML [WAP Markup Language], because what we're moving towards is a standards world.

That's what a standards world does. Imagine a world where Fords and Chevrolets and VWs all needed different gas stations -- you wouldn't have a very big car market. So if you have a market where everybody can use the same gas station, the same tyres, because there's a standard, it opens the market wider for everybody. That's why WAP is good as a standard, better than a proprietary standard like an HDML or an i-Mode, which is also a proprietary standard.

What about these new networks? Everybody's heard about 3G and GPRS networks. Once scenario is, super high-bandwidth phones are available, suddenly who needs WAP? You can do whatever you want.

First of all, 3G is still a long ways off. Products, sites -- you need infinitely more sites in a 3G system -- products are not readily available yet, you've got a huge investment on the part of companies who have already invested in 2G networks, who want to advertise the cost of those networks. So the products, the infrastructure is not going to be there for several years.

That having been said, let's presume 3G was here today. WAP is where it is today because in any radio environment, the radio spectrum is finite. And like any radio resource, you must manage this spectrum to get the most out of it. As the wireless world siphons more and more users away from wired, traditional land-line carriers, more and more people will use wireless for voice, and more of that spectrum is going to be consumed by voice usage. As that happens the need to manage it becomes even more acute, and WAP's ability to manage that spectrum is unsurpassed.

But as these technologies arrive, WAP is going to have to adapt to be able to support things like two-way video or high-bandwidth downloads, and there's some doubt about whether the spec is going to be able to stay relevant.

We have within WAP Forum about 30 expert groups that work on everything from billing to e-commerce and so on. We have groups right now that are working on large-file download, multimedia, real-time video conferencing. All these things we're looking at in terms of 3G, we're already building those into the specification to accommodate that so that we can provide a robust, rich user experience and still manage the spectrum at the same time.

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