Mobile commerce services based on WAP have a dim future, concludes a report conducted by usability expert Jakob Nielson’s company the Nielsen Norman Group.

Twenty people in the UK tested WAP services using donated mobiles for a week. By the end of the study 70 percent of them had ceased using it.

The most common complaints were that companies, such as Excite, used more screens than necessary to deliver the data and that certain sites used difficult vocabulary which took the user time to decipher.

On the whole the report found that many of the services were difficult to use and often time consuming, meaning that users were paying for unnecessary airtime.

Yet the number of WAP users is growing, with BT Cellnet now boasting over 500,000 subscribers, triple the number it had five months ago. But the real key to the future of WAP is the applications it enables.

“A lot of work needs to be done on the development of [applications],” said senior analyst Tim Sheedy, at the IDC European Forum in Monte Carlo. “Very few WAP sites currently answer a need for users or are easy to use,” he added.

The WAP forum, a non-profit making industry association for the development of WAP, is challenging the report’s findings, purporting that a sample of 20 people does not fairly represent the feelings of the 8bn people currently subscribing to WAP services worldwide.

The Forum stated the findings would be kept in mind as it develops WAP v2.0, the newest WAP service it hopes will iron out these problems. The debate remains open but with no other service available to compete with WAP, users have nothing to compare the service to.

“The real point about WAP is not that it’s not very good,” said Charles Davies, Psion’s chief technology officer, at the ninth World Wide Web conference in Amsterdam. “But that it’s going to be.”

For more of Jakob Nielsen’s views on the future of WAP, see