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No Strings Attached - The Wireless Future Starts Now

No Strings Attached - The Wireless Future Starts Now

Many of us fantasize about the future of cyber erotica as technology moves in the direction of wireless. We imagine that one could flip open a mobile phone anywhere and watch personalized porn as part of a wireless site membership. We imagine that adult businesses might access the latest sales and rental charts as well as industry news and information directly from their phones or PDAs. We also imagine a new economy for adult entertainment just waiting to be tapped, much like the standard Internet was in the mid-'90s.

The future is now. In March, Motorola Inc. and MTV International joined forces to attempt to convert the screens of people's mobile phones into a medium for broadcasting content. Motorola plans to install MTV programming on this year's phone models, along with other MTV material such as concert updates, event advertising, games, and music-themed screensavers and rings. In addition, new music and developing artists will be featured in 30-minute programs produced for the wireless world. Microsoft, commenting on the importance of wireless content delivery, states that "according to a recent Cahners In-Stat Report, the mobile computing device industry is projected to grow to 16.771 million units in 2004, representing an average annual growth rate of 28 percent over the five-year forecast period" (Microsoft.com). Is this a new emerging market for entertainment, perhaps accessible to other forms of the industry - such as adult?

Driving adult entertainment into the wireless world could open many doors for industry growth, provided that the proper technology is available. If a mobile phone user could gain access to private porn content, streaming video, or even - eventually - live one-on-one adult interaction directly to his/her phone, the demand for all-new products and services would arise. The revenue possibilities are enormous.

The Basics of Wireless Technology

If a company wants to break into the wireless content provider market, it is important to understand some basic principles of the subject in general. There are two terms that root wireless technology: WAP and WML. "WAP" is an acronym for "Wireless Application Protocol." WAP is a standard to serve Internet content and services to wireless clients and devices, such as mobile phones. Generally speaking, WAP is a list of protocols and specifications.

"WML" is an acronym for "Wireless Markup Language." WML's relationship to the screen of a mobile device is analogous to that of HTML and a Web browser. WML is based on XML, and is read and interpreted by a browser in the wireless device, commonly known as a "micro browser." When a mobile device goes online, it first dials in to a server. This server gives the device access to the protocols it needs. Internet Service Providers use the same protocols, such as PPP (Point-to-Point Protocol). Once the device accesses the necessary protocols, it connects to the WAP gateway. The WAP gateway links the wireless and the usual Web world. In essence, the gateway allows a wireless device to access the everyday Internet.

When a user types in the URL for a site - for example wap.sonicwaveintl.com - on a mobile device, the device first checks if an open connection already exists. If a connection doesn't exist, the device will dial up the PPP provider to receive necessary protocols and an IP address. Then, the request for the URL is given to the gateway. Online, sonicwaveintl.com's server (in this example) holds both wireless and standard Web contents. The server receives the request to send out the contents located at wap.sonicwaveintl.com. The server can be configured to decide if the user is using a wireless device or a computer, and thus sends out wireless content or standard Web content.

The content sent back to the wireless device is coded in WML. The WAP gateway converts the WML code into what's called "tokenized WML," or WMLC. The WMLC is then sent back to the wireless device. The conversion from WML to its compiled form WMLC is done to save on bandwidth usage. Currently, a WAP device's WML browser can only read tokenized WML. This is how the majority of WAP devices are connected to the Internet.

As a content provider, you want as much control over the data stream between your server and a wireless device as possible. A way to achieve this is to install a WAP server, which is a standard Web server that includes a WAP gateway. In such a configuration, the device's connection is dependent on the configuration of a firewall.

As far as the delivery of images is concerned, WAP allows the use of the graphics format WBMP (Wireless Bitmap Image). It is a black or white form of the standard bitmap image (BMP). Fortunately, Openwave.com, one of the largest providers of mobile Internet software, has overcome the need for black-and-white images by adopting the support of PNG (Portable Network Graphics) images, which allow for color.

Writing Your Own WAP Applications

Of course, when writing an application, knowledge of scripting is essential. WMLScript is a client-side script language very similar to JavaScript. Like JavaScript, the script executes simple code on the client side. WML pages, also known as WML documents, are mainly referred to as "decks." Each deck consists of one or more "cards." A deck begins and ends with the tag, just like and other markup languages. Subsequently, a card begins and ends with the tag. When a micro browser accesses a deck, it reads the entire deck. Therefore, traversing the cards in a given deck can be done without loading any additional data. This information is important knowledge to a WML programmer, for optimization of performance.

Like any other programming language, your programmer will need a text editor. However, writing WML code and development within the WAP environment can be quite complicated at first. Most experts advise that you begin with a developer toolkit. Fortunately, Motorola, Inc. offers something for this purpose. Experts also advise testing your applications on several different wireless devices, since there is a significant display difference between the various micro browsers. An Open Usability Interface (OUI) exists, and can be used to help build applications that are usable by a variety of different wireless devices.

When you're ready to serve your wireless applications to a WAP device, you can use any good HTTP server, such as Apache. PHP scripting is also usable for dynamic content, even though it's written for HTML browsers. Keep in mind that mobile phone users will still have to type in the URL on their phones, unless you manage to have your site offered directly from the mobile phone network provider (which would be difficult for an adult company, because of the associated stigma). When users type in a URL, the method's similar to that used for a Web browser; except the "www" is replaced with "wap." For example, www.sonicwaveintl.com becomes wap.sonicwaveintl.com for a wireless device. The most important task for the programmer is to utilize MIME in order to let the HTTP server communicate with the WML browser to indicate it's receiving WML decks, and not HTML pages.

Development Concerns

The first concern facing those developing and deploying wireless applications is the decision of which network to choose. Each network provider is different; therefore, you must understand each network's capabilities and flaws as they pertain to your particular application. The most common information requested by WAP consultants regards transmission, scalability, network congestion, and packet size. Usually no one network provider has everything a company needs for their application, and the decision of which provider to choose will involve compromise.

When considering availability to multiple wireless devices, another concern is the decision of which operating system the application should be optimized for. The most common choices are either Microsoft or Palm. "The wireless OS software market, in particular, has seen increasingly heated competition from Microsoft and Palm. Both companies, along with other smaller players, have been aggressively developing OS software they hope will propel handheld computing from devices that provide simple functions to mini-PCs that can offer powerful software tools and applications.... Choosing a standard platform, however, is no easy feat, given the sheer number of options and devices in the marketplace - which includes everything from e-mail appliances such as Compaq's BlackBerry to low-cost handheld devices from Sony to high-end color devices from Palm and Hewlett-Packard" (www.varbusiness.com).

Enterprise Application Integration is another concern. Will your wireless application need to integrate with other applications you use to run your business or standard Website? You want to make sure that you won't need to purchase special adapters in order to accomplish integration. Integration also yields another scalability issue. You want to plan for easy use of future applications in conjunction with your wireless one. General scalability should also be a concern, since network and wireless technology grow at a rapid rate. You don't want to be caught with a huge upgrade expense in order to "keep up" with your competitors. After you launch your wireless application, your company should be kept up to date on the contents of white papers, as well as new research and development.

Because wireless applications are part of new technology territory, security issues are abundant. Most of the research has been done on the device-side, so there's not much information about potential threats. Security should be a major concern of development, due to the vulnerability of new territories.

Another aspect to consider when referring to wireless delivery of video (MPEG-4) is the use of parallel processing. According to iApplianceWeb.com, "MPEG-4 involves the following tasks: image processing, format conversion, quantization and inverse quantization, discrete cosine transform (DCT), inverse DCT, motion compensation, and motion estimation. The combination of these functions reduces the sequence of video data to a much smaller bit stream by reducing redundancies in space and time from image to image." Video delivery uses quite a bit of processing power. Out of these tasks, motion estimation exerts the most demand. Craig Downing of Atsana Semiconductor Corp. suggests the use of processing these tasks in parallel, as to remedy this problem.

Market testing and Beta testing are the most important methods for alleviating these concerns. Many real world variables cannot be simulated on paper or in a confined lab. Market testing and Beta testing at the end-user level, as well as through consultants, is an effective and important way to discover any detrimental flaws in your application before you've sunk your entire budget on final deployment and advertising.

Middleware

Middleware is a serious consideration when broadcasting content such as that produced by the adult industry. Microsoft reveals that "recent attempts at delivering content to wireless devices have failed because of user experience: wireless content is different than Web content delivered from a computer browser. Space and graphic constraints dictate content that is timely, relevant, and targeted for the delivery method" (Microsoft.com). According to Wirelessdevnet.com, "Wireless platforms based upon markup languages such as WML have not proven very successful yet. For example, WAP users often complain about a poor user experience due, mostly, to lack of interesting content, to an awkward interaction model, and to errors occurring when a device loses network coverage for a period of time."

Adult content always proves to be "interesting," thus it's safe to conclude that the offering of wireless adult applications is a viable market. However, a wireless content provider is going to have difficulty surviving if its users have to deal with problematic network coverage and unacceptable down-time. Java middleware is said to be the solution to this problem: "... In the mobile world, user experience is greatly improved by providing an interaction model, in which the user does not have to go and search for content using a micro-browser, but where the user is alerted when something interesting happens. Such an alert should take the user's preferences and geographic location into consideration. This will ensure timely delivery of what an individual user considers to be critical or useful information without the need to actively search for it" (wirelessdev.net). Java applications on the mobile device allow the user to continue working with an application even when disconnected form the network. In a middleware situation, the device communicates with a WJMS gateway. Many of the services that are important to e-commerce, such as profiling and billing, are done on the application server level.

Expert FAQ

The wireless world, as analysts would say, has a low "Independence from Experts." This means that there are important questions that require answers from the developers themselves in order to fully understand the subject as it pertains to one specific line of business. Bjorn Nordwall, director of global Java solutions for Motorola and technical contact for the Motorola/MTV venture, was called upon by AVN Online to shed light on some industry-specific tech concerns.

AVN Online: What kind of applications are capable of being delivered to phones?

Bjorn Nordwall: J2ME applications are generally synonymous with "phones"; whereas "smart phones" are a particular class that have emerged with operating systems from Palm, PPC, Symbian, and Linux. This makes the answer to your question rather broad. J2ME applications range from single-player games to networked multi-player games; there are applications that use instant messaging and location services to provide a community-oriented environment; and other applications are oriented toward transaction processing - information delivery of audio, video and text information. Generally the broad categories are personal productivity, entertainment, and community (messaging).

AO: What tech issues/concerns would there be for making video content available or downloadable to a phone?

BN: The principal issue is related to exposure by the device to Java via Applications Programming Interface (API) of the necessary audio and video components. In the J2ME environment, the Java Standards Community had defined Java Specification Request 135 for Multimedia, and device manufacturers are expected to implement these APIs.

AO: What would a broadcast company need in terms of hardware and software in order to stream live video content to a phone?

BN: The fundamental issue is efficient encoding and decoding, and the ability to synchronize audio and video streams. Synchronization would allow a Java application to decode and play out to the audio/video codecs enabled for Java on the device. This has proven to be a difficult task to master. There are some companies which currently offer products that perform this function, and have different classes of capabilities depending on the requirements. Live video streams have proven to be the most demanding, and currently tend to be most effective when viewed on players imbedded with the OS.

Anand Bhatt is CTO of SWI Labs, a technical consulting and research group, and is an executive at Sonic Wave International Entertainment. His name is also recognizable from his mainstream music career. He can be reached at sonicwave@apexmail.com.

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