Don't believe the WAP sceptics. Wireless internet access is the direction in which we will soon stampede, and right now, wireless application protocol is still on track to lead the thundering herd.

WAP is a set of technical specifications to guide wireless-phone and personal digital assistant manufacturers, network operators, content creators, and application developers. The intent is to establish a global standard for accessing the Internet via wireless devices with small display screens.

Until recently, WAP enjoyed growing acceptance, but suddenly, its sceptics abound. Visitors to the PC Advisor site recently expressed their irritation with WAP by overwhelmingly agreeing with the statement on our interactive poll that the protocol had been completely over-hyped.

The criticism of WAP revolves around two issues: it's an inadequate technology, and it was designed to meet a need that doesn't exist.

To someone accustomed to the lush environment of large-screen desktop broadband Internet access, WAP can seem absurd. The typical one square inch WAP screen doesn't display graphics, and because the access is wireless, the speed is achingly slow.

But the comparison is bogus. WAP wasn't designed for surfing the Web; its purpose is to retrieve specific information for people on the move.

Ways to use WAP

A smart, creative WAP application was recently implemented in San Francisco. The local transport service is using technology from NextBus to track the real-time position and speed of buses, streetcars, and trains.

Passengers can now use their handheld devices to access the NextBus WAP site to find out when the next bus will arrive at their stop.

And if you run a coffee shop or newsstand close to a stop, would you like to send a commercial pitch to riders who have more than ten minutes to wait?

As more sites such as this come online, consumer demand for WAP devices and services will soar, along with commercial opportunities.

WAP is also well suited for business use. For mobile employees who simply need price updates, inventory status, and similar information, why bother with the cost and upkeep of laptops if browser-equipped phones or PDAs would be just as effective?

Obviously, WAP's specifications will have to rapidly improve to keep pace with advances in hardware; otherwise it will be eclipsed.

As wireless speed increases, processors become more powerful and drain less battery power, and displays expand and include colour, consumers will become more demanding. They'll want streaming audio and video, for example.

But until then, the current WAP standards make sense and enjoy broad support. We are at the awkward chicken-and-egg point in WAP's development, but early adopters of the technology will be rewarded.