Study Finds Corporate Users Giving Up on WAP-Enabled Phones

Just one year ago, Wireless Application Protocol (WAP) was the talk of
the town. Entrepreneurs and software innovators talked about turning to the
open-source standard for wireless Web applications in light of the downturn
in “pure-play” Internet start-ups. And their business plans were met with
warm receptions from venture capitalists.


But over the last 12 months, WAP has caught a lot of flak for premature
promises of next-generation 2.5G or 3G cellular networks despite the
repeated efforts by its principal developer, Openwave Systems Inc., to stem
one wave of concern after another. Openwave has tried introducing a graphical users interface or even supporting Sun Microsystems’ Java programming language. And yet (most recently at this spring’s Cellular Telecommunications & Internet
Association (CTIA) show) Openwave CEO’s Don Listwin has still pleaded to the
developer community to support the protocol and build out useful wireless
services…the next killer app, if you will.

But now Openwave’s WAP is catching heat from Stamford, Conn.-based Meta
Group. In its latest research, Meta Group said as much as 80 to 90 percent
of corporate users that purchased WAP-enabled phones have abandoned the data
capabilities of these phones.

“These phones are currently used by corporations mainly for the standard
voice features,” said Jack Gold, a vice president of Web & Collaboration
Strategies at Meta Group.

Ironically, Meta Group’s findings come one day after an analyst at Thomas
Weisel Partners spoke glowingly of the protocol. The investment bank said channel checks indicate that demand is
growing for WAP services, with 13 carriers planning on 2.5G launches in the
second half of the year. WAP has also begun to find favor with European
carriers.

To be sure, Meta Group found that corporate users in Europe and Asia are
less disillusioned with up to 65 to 75 percent no longer using their
cellular phones for Internet connectivity. But until handset makers can
improve the ergonomics, disillusioned users will continue to find it
difficult to access data especially given the effort required to obtain
information.

“With new technologies on the horizon, we should see data access from
mobile phones pick up again during the next two to three years — but only
if the ergonomics are substantially improved,” said Gold.

Meta Group said it expects the future market to move beyond current
WAP-enabled phones to encompass various wireless devices that meet
enterprise user needs. Users that are communication-centric will choose one
of the next-generation smart phones (e.g., Kyocera, Samsung, Ericsson) that
offer personal digital assistant (PDA)-like functionality built into the
phone. Meanwhile, users that are primarily data-centric will choose somewhat
larger and more costly devices for their data processing capabilities, with
add-on wireless communications as a secondary benefit.

“We have a catch-22, because most cell phone users want their devices to
stay small — and are demanding the highest levels of portability. Yet the
small size prohibits them from being ergonomically correct and
data-intensive. That’s why a cell phone will never replace a PDA, and a PDA
will never replace a phone.”

Openwave officials weren’t immediately available for comment on the Meta
Group findings.

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