What Is a WAP Browser?

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  • Written By: Amanda Livingstone
  • Edited By: Lauren Fritsky
  • Last Modified Date: 17 October 2019
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A wireless access protocol (WAP) browser allows mobile devices such as older cellular phones to access compatible web content. The mini-browser can use multiple Internet protocols to render web pages into plain text or simplified versions of the original web page. In order for a WAP browser to be effective, web developers usually create separate WAP web pages for mobile devices. Otherwise without WAP optimization, web content will usually take longer to load and may not render correctly in older mobile devices.

During the early days of the Internet, mobile devices had limited system resources and screen size, which made loading Internet-based content such as email, instant messaging and newsgroups a challenge. When the WAP protocol was introduced in 1997, the protocol allowed very small devices such as cellular phones and personal digital assistants (PDAs) to access limited Internet-based content. Early WAP web pages were made using handheld device markup language (HDML) and wireless markup language (WML).


HDML and WML allowed for optimization of the device’s data transfer rates and small screen size. WAP browsers were originally made to render WAP pages using transfer rates of 14.4 kilobytes per second (Kbps) or less. Prior to the increased screen size and resolution found in today’s mobile devices, early cell phones and PDAs were limited to very small screens with resolutions measuring around 150-by-150 pixels. Most web pages were designed to be viewed at 640-by-480 pixels and above, which created a problem for most mobile devices. When accessing a compatible web page, the WAP browser was able to easily render compatible web pages in the device’s native resolution size, bypassing the need for bigger screens and resolution size.

Today the WAP browser has evolved to support additional Internet languages such as compact hypertext markup language (CHTML) and extensible hypertext markup language (XHTML). The support of additional Internet languages has made it possible for newer mobile devices with WAP browsers to render popular XHTML media elements. Older-form factors such as small screened cellular devices still use the WAP browser to render web pages. Newer touchscreen hand-held mobile devices may still support WAP-based web page. Nonetheless today’s mobile devices are increasingly powerful and can handle displaying web pages in their entirety.

Some may argue today’s full-use mobile web browsers eliminate the need for WAP pages and browsers. While today’s mobile technology makes it possible for full web page rendering, WAP technology can still be useful, and especially for those who still have older and less advanced mobile devices. Considering WAP technology strips web content to the bear minimum, using a WAP browser can dramatically increase web page load times and decrease server load.


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