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EU official says future WAP worth the wait

Network World Fusion

(IDG) -- A top European official has criticized the developers of Wireless Application Protocol phones that give users mobile access to the Internet, for failing to consider consumer needs.

"WAP is an example of a good technology for which no one ever asked: What is it for," said Joao Da Silva, head of the European Commission's unit dealing with mobile and satellite communications.

The industry "has failed to address the key aspect of what the consumer would do with the new technology," he said in an interview at a seminar dealing with the future of wireless technologies.

"WAP won't fail. There will be WAP II. It will be like the introduction of other technologies like [Global System for Mobile Communications], painful at the beginning," Da Silva said.

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The business model applied to the WAP rollout has been at fault, he said. It was a mistake to launch the technology using metered billing because this doesn't suit the way people are likely to use WAP, he said. It will make more sense when WAP phones charge for data packages downloaded, rather than by time, he said.

Focusing on consumers in the future was the main theme of Da Silva's keynote speech to the 200-strong audience of academics, industry experts and commission officials. The seminar was co-arranged by the commission and the Wireless Strategic Initiative (WSI), a think tank including leading European mobile phone operators such as Siemens, Nokia and L.M. Ericsson Telephone.

"As we look beyond third-generation mobile phones, it's not just higher capacity, higher data rates we should consider," Da Silva said. The industry should move forward "with the user at the center of the picture."

Industry representatives agreed. "Technological progress will only work if it helps consumers," said Norbert Niebert, head of Ericsson's German unit Ericsson Eurolab Deutschland.

Users should be able to choose the system they want.

"I don't like the name 'fourth generation.' We see an integration of platforms after the third generation," Da Silva said.

Da Silva and Niebert agreed that wireless IT is about to undergo enormous change.

"In 10 years the wireless landscape will have changed beyond all recognition, with the traditional terminal disappearing and alternatives such as wearable devices coming in," Da Silva said.

"Ericsson believes that by 2005 more data will be transmitted through wireless technologies than through fixed lines," Niebert said.

Da Silva and Niebert said a close relationship between industry and the Commission was an important factor behind Europe taking the lead globally in mobile telephony.

"Ten years ago the Commission asked what the future for mobile telephony was. It provided the mechanism to bring together industry and academics," Da Silva said.

The Commission has invested 60 million euros (US$57.75 million) over the past 10 years to develop mobile telephony in Europe. The next budget, to be decided next summer, is expected to be about 300 million euros over 4 or 5 years, a figure that Da Silva called "speculative."

The WSI is one of several think tanks that cooperate with the Commission on mobile telephony.




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