Mobile Learning – Three Reasons for the Return of WAP

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Over the last couple of weeks I’ve met some prospective customers from the Telecom domain here in India. While they’re all keyed about mobile learning, they have serious reservations about how they (as telecom service providers) can leverage their own networks. I often point to some simple facts. Each of their employees carries a cell phone and is connected to the network 24 hours a day. These employees are scattered all over the Indian geography. This presents a unique challenge and opportunity.

The challenge obviously is the delivery of any sort of training intervention using mobile phones. The limitations imposed by screen size and capability, plus in the Indian context having to support a wide variety of languages and scripts. The opportunity is clearly in the ubiquity of the devices amongst the employee base and ownership of the network and the technology for content delivery. An easy solution to propose is the use of installable applications or browser based content access; however it doesn’t account for the largest singular reason such solution fail in India – 90%+ phones do not support GPRS data connectivity or lack a HTML standard compliant browser.

While this may seem strange to someone from the west, it’s well known in India that the bulk of the phones are cheap and basic –phones such as these an do not features operating systems capable of handling installable, or a fully featured browser. These are the phones that are selling in millions and are the ones that provide most of the voice and SMS traffic on the network.

However there is a technology that has existed for more than a decade, that provides a perfect fit for these innumerable basic phones – it’s WAP Wireless Application Protocol. There are three primary reasons :

  1. 90% of the phones support WAP – Its old technology and unless you have a phone that’s a couple of decades old (who does?) WAP, your phone surely has it. All newer phones support WAP 2.0; a capable and proven technology that was already being widely used in Europe before the advent of 2.5G and 3G networks. WAP doesn’t really require the internet to work; it can offer a workable solution using SMS, USSD and others; similarly it doesn’t require sophisticated data connectivity like GPRS either.
  2. WAP supports push – One of the critical aspects of using a browser based mlearning solution is that it can’t be ‘push’ed to the learner. The technology relies on the learner initiating the transaction with the system that results in some content being downloaded to the phone. WAP circumvents that by directly pushing content to the phone; as a service indicator or as a service loader.
  3. WAP supports multiple scripts and languages – Key to a market that is linguistically as diverse as India is the ability to support multiple scripts and languages. With users setting their phones to use native languages, pushing learning in that language assumes great significance. WAP provides that ability, with content that can be rendered appropriately depending on the handset’s language settings.

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