WAP-py New Year! Latvia in the palm of my hand

New Year’s Eve brought an unusual self-induced bit of boredom. I had nowhere to go, and no desire, either. But instead of moping, I used the quiet around the house to uncover the simple fun of the WAP feature on my mobile phone—and the ability to connect with Latvia while away from a computer.

For those who don’t know, WAP stands for Wireless Application Protocol. It’s a telecommunications standard that allows properly equipped mobile phones to connect to the Internet. Just like Web sites, WAP sites provide news, information, entertainment and e-commerce. But unlike Web sites, what the user usually sees on the small screen of the mobile phone is short bursts of text and few, if any, graphics.

For some readers, particularly those in Europe, the use of WAP is nothing new. In fact, some mobile telecommunications providers have already moved beyond the simple text-based information provided by basic WAP. Eurotel Bratislava, a mobile communications provider in the Slovak Republic, recently unveiled what it says is the first live video feed to a cell phone, using Multimedia Messaging Service (MMS) to send a television news show to its customers.

But that’s way ahead of my phone’s capabilities.

I’d known that my Ericsson R520m could utilize WAP, but I had never tried. In fact, I wasn’t even sure that I could. However, my provider (T-Mobile) clarified that my calling plan includes up to 1 megabyte of data transmissions per month. In the world of WAP, that’s plenty for infrequent use.

After spending half an hour on the Web tracking down information about how to configure my phone to use my provider’s WAP “gateway,” I was set. Within minutes, I was surfing T-Mobile’s site, retrieving generally useless information such as my horoscope and the winning lottery numbers.

Not satisfied with things I can’t control anyway, I began to wonder whether there are any WAP sites in Latvia and whether I might be able to view them on my phone. And, yes, there are some sites in Latvia, and yes, some I could get to through my phone.

My first visit was to Diena, the largest daily newspaper in Latvia. I was pleased to see that my phone readily gained access to the site, even displaying the newspaper’s logotype. The home page of the site allowed two basic choices: today’s and yesterday’s top stories and sports results. Scrolling and “clicking” (by pressing the “Yes” button), I was able to read headlines and the stories behind them.

Cool! This means I can be away from my computer and still read Latvian news on the Internet.

But why stop there? My next visit was to Latvijas Mobīlais telefons (LMT), the larger of the two wireless providers in Latvia. LMT’s WAP portal offers a number of links, but many of them are not Latvian and several didn’t work. However, a fun feature allows a mobile phone user to find out what movies are playing in cinemas around Riga and the rest of the country. The database also provides summaries of the cast and plot. Doubly cool!

My wireless provider when I’m in Latvia, Tele2, also has a WAP site, but its offerings are not as broad as LMT’s—although they are provided in Latvian, English and Russian.

Another stop on my WAP trip to Latvia was at 118, the information service provided by Lattelekom. The horoscope section didn’t work, but at least I could find out the phone numbers for special services in cities around Latvia—in case I need to call the fire department in Saldus, for example. The site also provides a name’s day service for today, tomorrow, the day after tomorrow, and the day after the day after tomorrow (why isn’t there a good word in English like aizparīt?).

These aren’t the only WAP sites in Latvia, but I was surprised that more aren’t available, especially useful ones. The Estonian business newspaper Aripaev, a cousin of Rīga’s Dienas bizness, has a WAP site, but Db doesn’t. Plus I found an interesting English-Estonian WAP dictionary, but nothing like that for Latvian.

The future of WAP is unclear. Two years ago, it was deemed a technology that would slowly catch on, but it seems that it still hasn’t. Surfing the Internet on a screen barely larger than your thumb is one barrier.

But at least it gave me something to do New Year’s Eve.

Andris Straumanis is a special correspondent for and a co-founder of Latvians Online. From 2000–2012 he was editor of the website.

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