January 8, 2004 7:04 AM PST

WAP technology a retro hit in U.K.

Wireless Access Protocol may have been declared dead on arrival, but the technology is now experiencing a renaissance, largely driven by WAP sites offering customized phone ring tones, according to figures released this week by the Mobile Data Association.

The number of WAP pages viewed in the United Kingdom for November hit 947 million, up from October's 897 million, and significantly ahead of industry expectations. The MDA had projected that the United Kingdom would hit 8 billion WAP page impressions for 2003, but with November's figures, the total already stands at 8.2 billion.

A page impression is defined as a WAP Markup Language (WML) file, or combination of files, sent to a valid user as a result of that user's request. The figures come from U.K. GSM (Global System for Mobile Communications) operators O2, Orange, T-Mobile and Vodafone Group.

WAP, which displays Web information on small wireless devices, debuted to great fanfare in the late 1990s. But at the time most handsets had black-and-white displays and relied on dial-up connections for data transfer, making Internet-based services slow, expensive and difficult to use.

The wide availability now of color screens, better user interfaces and faster data connections is encouraging mobile users to log on, if only to download ring tones, according to the MDA. Ring tones based on pop songs are the main driver of WAP traffic, with top tunes for November including The Black-Eyed Peas' "Where is the Love?", Kevin Lyttle's "Turn Me On" and Fatman Scoop's "Be Faithful."

Many higher-end handsets can now also read standard HTML Web pages, but the majority of phones can only access the Internet via WAP.

The rise in traffic is good news for mobile operators who earn revenue from download fees, and it may also mean opportunities for content providers. However, WAP remains a far cry from the popularity of the most successful mobile Internet platform, NTT DoCoMo, which reached 40 million subscribers in October.

WAP is also far less popular than the main carrier of data traffic on U.K. mobile network--text messaging. Person-to-person text messages reached an average of 59 million per day in November, jumping to 76 million on the day of the Rugby World Cup final on Nov. 22, and hitting 111 million on New Year's Eve. The total for the month of November was 1.7 billion.

Infrastructure provider Sicap noted earlier this week that operators are having trouble coping with peak levels of text-message demand, with some New Year's Eve messages delayed up to four hours or lost entirely.

Matthew Broersma of ZDNet UK reported from London.

 

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