How WAP Works

By: Jeff Tyson

Wireless Markup Language

WAP uses Wireless Markup Language (WML), which includes the Handheld Device Markup Language (HDML) developed by

WML can also trace its roots to eXtensible Markup Language (XML). A markup language is a way of adding information to your content that tells the device receiving the content what to do with it. The best known markup language is Hypertext Markup Language (HTML). Unlike HTML, WML is considered a meta language. Basically, this means that in addition to providing predefined tags, WML lets you design your own markup language components. WAP also allows the use of standard Internet protocols such as UDP, IP and XML.


There are three main reasons why wireless Internet needs the Wireless Application Protocol:

  • Transfer speed
  • Size and readability
  • Navigation

Most cell phones and Web-enabled PDAs have data transfer rates of 14.4 Kbps or less. Compare this to a typical 56 Kbps modem, a cable modem or a DSL connection. Most Web pages today are full of graphics that would take an unbearably long time to download at 14.4 Kbps. Wireless Internet content is typically text-based in order to solve this problem.

The relatively small size of the LCD on a cell phone or PDA presents another challenge. Most Web pages are designed for a resolution of 640x480 pixels, which is fine if you are reading on a desktop or a laptop. The page simply does not fit on a wireless device's display, which might be 150x150 pixels. Also, the majority of wireless devices use monochrome screens. Pages are harder to read when font and background colors become similar shades of gray.

Navigation is another issue. You make your way through a Web page with points and clicks using a mouse; but if you are using a wireless device, you often use one hand to scroll keys.

WAP takes each of these limitations into account and provides a way to work with a typical wireless device.