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WAP expected to take off with cheaper phones
(IDG) -- The convergence of the Web and wireless technology has been touted as the next wave of the Internet. Obstacles in the development of wireless technology, particularly for WAP (wireless application protocol), including the lack of infrastructure and affordable WAP-enabled phones, are expected to be solved before the end of the year, according to industry executives.
"[The adoption of WAP] is going to be fast this year. It's going to create business opportunities for content providers to get their message out and enable people to conduct business wherever they are without having to use a laptop," said Ed Harbour, director of business line management and marketing at IBM.
During his visit to Hong Kong last week, Harbour met with various content providers in the SAR, whom he characterized as "very visionary and far-reaching" in grasping the upcoming business opportunities that wireless computing. "They're already thinking that people have all manners and the time of the day for access to information, what do they need to do to make sure they are part of it," he added.
However, despite the enthusiasm surrounding WAP, Sandra Ng, vice president of communications and peripheral research at International Data Corp. Asia-Pacific, pointed out that limitations to Web-based wireless applications include the shortage of WAP-enabled phones, a lack of content and a lack of WAP knowledge in the mass market.
Harbour, on the other hand, expects that most of these problems will be solved within the year. "By the end of this year, phone manufacturers will come out with a WAP phone that will be in the same price range with the standard phones of today. Once that happens, it won't be long before WAP phones become a standard phone that everybody uses," he said.
"Having a WAP-enabled phone is step one. Having the telcos providing WAP-based services is also an important step. But I think we're seeing that investment being made now and that the infrastructure is being put in place," he added.
On how the proliferation of WAP will be different in Asia from the U.S., Harbour said the adoption of WAP will be faster in Asia.
"For Hong Kong and in most of Asia, you have a common standard for network communication. In the U.S., that's not the case. There are different levels of phone support there. That kind of standard confusion is going to be a delay factor for the U.S," he said, adding that the U.S. will eventually standardize on the GSM standard, probably within 18 to 24 months.
"Because there are so many people in Hong Kong who use a [mobile] phone already, it has become part of life already. They're very familiar with mobile phones and they'll be very eager to pick up mobile services, enabling the Internet to be accessible to a wider audience," he said.
According to IDC, the number of mobile phone subscribers in Asia-Pacific excluding Japan has already reached 100 million users.
The highest penetration level is in Hong Kong (60 percent), followed by Korea (50 percent), Taiwan (46 percent), Singapore (43 percent) and Australia (38 percent), said Ng.
The rise in mobile devices, however, doesn't mean the end for desktop PCs, analysts said. "PCs will still have a place. There's going to be a large opportunity in the office where you really want the rich graphics and color capabilities. It's complementary, not a replacement," said Kitty Fok, research manager for PCs at IDC.
"But for people who don't need to use a PC, [WAP] can extend services to those people," said Harbour.
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