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Nokia pushes WAP into consumer market

GSM Data over cellular finally looks like taking off, in a big way

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Analysis Nokia's launch of its 7110, the world's first GSM WAP phone, and a related blizzard of news releases are making WAP seem suddenly a much earlier prospect than anticipated. The WAP (Wireless Application Protocol) standard is intended to allow low-resource devices to link to the Internet despite low bandwidth, but had recently started to look like an idea that would soon be overtaken by broadband wireless. Motorola, Ericsson and Nokia had been expected to unveil WAP products next autumn, with volume shipments by the end of the year. But Nokia is apparently now shooting for a second quarter release and has been able to drum up support from operators and other affiliates. A clutch of GSM operators in Nordic countries and Singapore is already pledging WAP support by summer. Nokia's WAP contract with France Telecom is also meant to provide French customers with WAP by summer. The 7110 offers new software that helps to compose text messages by anticipating which letters are most likely to be used in completing a word. This concept has aready been adapted by a small mobile phone manufacturer called Benefon and it has turned Io, the first phone using the feature, into a minor hit. The technology cuts down the amount of button-pushing needed to compose a message by as much as 50 per cent. Both Motorola and Ericsson plan to offer a similar feature in the future. Meanwhile a Nokia-CNN joint venture is aimed at easing consumers into WAP by providing content services like news headlines and stock quotes first via Short Message Service and then by offering expanded services with the help of WAP. Nokia also aims to introduce a GSM-1900 version of the 7110 for the US market later this year. This might help the embattled American GSM operators to fight back the advances of TDMA and CDMA by offering WAP technology before it is adapted by the competing standards. Motorola is trying to aid its proprietary iDEN standard by introducing WAP technology first in this standard. It makes some sense, because iDEN is aimed mainly for professional use. But one of the most interesting aspects of the 7110 launch is Nokia's apparent resolve to bring WAP into mainstream. The earlier 9000 smartphone topped a million units in sales, but never reached average consumers. Nokia's extremely aggressive pricing of the 7110 is aimed to prevent this from happening again. The model may ship for as little as 50 per cent below current 9110 smartphone prices and just 20 per cent above the launch price of the 6110. For a model that offers 80 per cent larger display than the 6110 while introducing much improved technological specifications the price would be notably low. It would actually undercut Motorola's new V-series phones and Ericsson's T28, the other frontrunners for this summer - even though they do not offer WAP technology. It is going to be highly interesting to see how strongly the GSM operators will embrace WAP. The early signs are good. The 1,000 per cent annual growth some Nordic operators are seeing in SMS use shows that consumers in countries with advanced mobile phone penetration are switching to using phones as data devices. In Nordic countries data already makes up more than 10 per cent of mobile network traffic -- among teenage users text messages have already surpassed voice calls as the most common way to use a mobile phone. These phenomena may be replicated by major European markets like the UK, Germany, France and Italy as their penetration rates close in on 30 per cent, the number most often associated with the initiation of exponential growth in mobile data traffic. ®

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