InternetUniversity: Wireless Web

Wireless Internet is fast becoming a necessary business tool for some, while remaining a cool toy for others. Regardless of its use, however, the wireless Internet community is growing. People are starting to connect to the Internet from their cell phones and handheld personal assistants (PDAs) to get directions, stock quotes and even to receive email. But how does it all work and what does it mean for advertisers?

First off, market research indicates that by 2003 there will be over 700 million Wireless Access Protocol (WAP) enabled cell phones in the market, and enthusiasts claim those cell phones will soon become a viable advertising medium. Indeed, portals with large client bases like Yahoo and Excite have successfully joined the “wireless revolution,” providing clients with resources like road maps and stock quotes, all advertiser-supported, of course.

But, a recent Nielsen study showed that most wireless web users used certain applications (email) regularly while avoiding the clunkiness of WAP web navigation. So before you sign that IO to run your client’s ads on a wireless web network, here’s how wireless web works and some thoughts about its future.

Wireless Access Protocol (WAP) is the most widely accepted technology that enables your cell phone to tap into the Internet. When you dial up for web access from your portable device, you’re actually connecting to a WAP Gateway. This gateway receives information from a cellular device and routes it to a web server containing the desired web pages. The web server then routes those pages back through the gateway and into your hand.

However, researchers say, less than 1% of websites today are WAP-enabled. In order for a web page to be easily transmitted to a cell phone (data transfer rates for cellular are very slow and the screens are tiny), the page has to be created in a language called Wireless Markup Language—a light version of Extensible Markup Language (XML) specifically created to deal with the aforementioned wireless issues.

And that’s one reason wireless web is not being adopted by web publishers as quickly as some thought it would be. Every website that wants to make its content available to the wireless world needs time to rewrite pages in WML. For publishers this means that instead of having one website to maintain, they are forced to manage their wireless and wired websites separately while keeping content consistent on both. “Redundant” and “costly” are the first words that come to mind.

As more people succumb to the will of the wireless craze and buy web-enabled cell phones, the use of wireless Internet will grow. Will WAP still be around to serve up pages to these people in a few years or will some webmaster, brought to the brink of insanity by rewriting all of his pages in WML, come up with something better?

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