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What is a WAP Phone?

By R. Kayne
Updated May 16, 2024
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A Wireless Application Protocol (WAP) phone is a mobile phone capable of Internet connectivity. A WAP phone can be used to do things like check email, send messages, track stocks, access news and sports headlines, or download music. While it cannot deliver the same visually pleasing Internet experience as a desktop or laptop computer, it opens the door to mobile Internet access and on-the-go productivity.

WAP is an international Internet standard specifically developed for mobile devices, including phones, personal digital assistants (PDAs) and other hand-helds. Nokia, Sony Ericsson, the Unwired Planet and Motorola initially developed the standard. The challenge was in bringing the Internet to mechanisms that, by necessary design, included many inherent constraints.

A cell phone screen is extremely limited, with some as small as 150 x 150 pixels. Most Web content is designed to display on monitors with a minimal resolution of 640 x 480 pixels. A cell phone must also rely on scrolling keys versus a keyboard and mouse; and the typical mobile device has a transfer rate of only 14.4 kilobytes per second (kbps). Dial-up is a lightning fast 56 kbps comparatively, to say nothing of digital subscriber line (DSL) or cable speeds.

WAP addresses these challenges by providing mobile-specific language protocols and scripts. Graphics, which would take a very long time to load, are virtually eliminated. Content is text-based and simply arranged for easy navigation with scrolling menus. As a result, a Web page will appear quite different on a WAP phone than it appears on a desktop. Mobile Internet emphasizes functionality over form, using the smallest data footprint possible to compensate for slower data transfer speeds.

While the micro-browser might appear to be lacking compared to a desktop, a WAP phone has the advantage of fitting in a pocket or purse. It is extremely convenient to have online access from the car, campus, airport, taxi, parking lot, or wherever a person happens to be at the time. Users can get weather reports, find a nearby restaurant, look up a phone number, check a game score, book tickets, or shop. The phone also provides a great way to pass the time when waiting for a service or appointment.

WAP is in continual development and major websites are making more content available for mobile browsing. Fees for accessing the Internet through a WAP phone will differ according to the chosen cell phone plan and carrier. Someone who uses her phone frequently for online access should shop for the best carrier first when looking for a new phone, since most contract plans will include one. A user who just wants to upgrade an existing plan should choose a phone compatible with her carrier.

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Discussion Comments
By anon164678 — On Apr 02, 2011

WAP phones are big help in the rising technology. In our Project Study we are creating a House Automation using the WAP phones but we are struggling finding it. I hope cellphone companies make a WAP capability to the future cellphones.

By moonTiger — On Jan 29, 2011

@panda2006 - I agree, choosing a company that provides good customer service is important. I am a customer with Sprint and have had several Sprint WAP phones, and over time their customer service has steadily improved. Had I known about their customer service when I first signed on with Sprint though, I probably would have thought twice, but luckily it's gotten better. That’s why I agree that it’s important to do your homework. Try to find a WAP phone that will suit your needs with a company that has a good reputation for offering excellent customer service.

By panda2006 — On Jan 28, 2011

There are many different kinds of WAP phones now, and one of the biggest issues I think is making sure the phone you choose offers good customer support. Some of the first really technologically advanced WAP phones, such as the first iPhone, offered poor warranties, contract information, and general service for customers compared to what they were used to from traditional phones. While they and many other companies have improved, it is still something to keep in mind when you are shopping around for one.

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