WAP Collaboration for mobile users.

Safia Djennane, Stuart Goose
Siemens Corporate Research
Princeton, NJ 08540, USA
safia@scr.siemens.com, sgoose@scr.siemens.com

Hans Mollenhauer
Information and Communication Networks
Siemens AG
Munich, Germany
Hans.Mollenhauer@icn.siemens.de

Abstract

The World Wide Web (WWW) has enjoyed phenomenal growth over recent years. It has been widely embraced as a standard infrastructure over which a variety of applications can be deployed. We are witnessing a growing number of professionals relying upon the Internet to perform their work. Collaboration tools enable teams of workers in disparate locations to work together using a variety of approaches. A similar revolution to that of the WWW is taking place within the mobile telecommunications domain, with a burgeoning requirement for wireless Internet access, via the Wireless Application Protocol (WAP). This paper presents a framework that enables two or more mobile users to collaborate and exchange messages using mobile devices. The system is described provides on-line multi-user collaboration service based on the IRC (Internet Relay Chat) protocol, transmitted via WAP that offers a WML interface.

Keywords

Wireless Application Protocol, Mobility, Collaboration Instant Messaging, Chat.

1. Introduction and Motivation

The World Wide Web (WWW) continues to enjoy phenomenal growth with the promise of facilitating a digital society. Technology continues to evolve, allowing an increasingly peripatetic society to remain "connected" without any reliance upon wires. As a consequence, mobile computing is a growth area and the focus of much energy. Mobile computing heralds exciting new applications and services for information access, communication and collaboration across a diverse range of environments.

A plethora of Internet-based collaboration tools are currently available. In recent times, Chat Rooms and Instant Messaging have proved enormously popular services. The predecessor to these services is Internet Relay Chat (IRC) [1], which is an IP-based service with sophisticated support for distributed collaboration. IRC provides a variety of mechanisms for users to collaborate across the Internet with friends, colleagues and others both publicly and privately by creating and subscribing to various "channels", or chat rooms, to exchange text messages and file transfers. As such, IRC has become the de facto standard for collaboration in this arena.

At the same time, we are witnessing a huge interest for wireless devices (phones and PDAs) and services especially from professionals and people "on the move". The Short Message Service (SMS), or paging, can be considered as a significant market success either for business or entertainment purposes. The ability to exchange SMS messages provides the convenience of being able to reach anyone anytime and anywhere in urgent situations. Unfortunately, SMS has fundamental limitations that make it an unsuitable technology above which to layer collaborative services.

On the other hand, as wireless networks are bringing the idea of the "unplugged Internet" [2], a new standard, called Wireless Application Protocol (WAP) [3], is emerging and making a significant impact in the mobile market. WAP is the new de facto global standard for providing Internet communications and advanced mobile telephony services on digital mobile phones, pagers, personal digital assistants and other wireless terminals. It is an open, global standard that empowers mobile users with wireless devices to easily access and interact with information and services. WAP technology is modelled on the WWW, but adapted for small devices with low bandwidth and limited hardware capabilities.

Described in this paper is an on-line multi-user collaboration service based on the IRC (Internet Relay Chat) protocol, transmitted via WAP that offers a WML interface. A convergence of WAP and collaboration services will herald a range of new and exciting approaches for supporting mobile groups that may be potentially distributed around the world. WAP-Chat promotes a novel approach for exchanging messages between mobile users which has much potential benefit for mobile co-working and Instant Messaging.

2. Related Work

Computer-based collaboration systems are historically related to Memex and Augment systems introduced respectively by Bush [4] Englebart [5], first systems that enabled users to interact using the computer. Since then much research has been conducted exploring groupware and shared workspaces. This research addresses many related issues: collaboration policies, architectural models, media integration, etc[8] . As a result, a plethora of conferencing and collaboration products have become available to overcome the obstacle of geographic proximity. The most popular tools are "Chat" and "Instant Messaging" tools, supported by specific protocols: IRC is the most used one. It is an IP-based protocol with sophisticated support for distributed collaboration. The IETF have ratified the IRC protocol and subsequently a proliferation of free public domain clients and servers now exist [7] and support what has become known as "WEB Chat". IRC provides a variety of mechanisms for users to collaborate across the Internet with friends, colleagues and others both publicly and privately by subscribing to various "channels", or chat rooms, to exchange text messages and file transfers. Chat services are accessible through a selection of open servers which dispatch the text messages to users joining the selected channel.

Instant Messaging systems are similar tools for keeping people connected and notified. They are targeted toward subscribed users who want to chat in a private "network", allowing members of the community to meet, discuss and exchange messages. The four main players in this field are AOL's Instant Messenger (AIM), Microsoft MSN Messaging service, Yahoo Messenger and Excite Personal Access List (PAL) Messenger. Instant Messaging Tools are becoming more and more accepted within the Internet community, some of them are being extended to mobile and wireless devices, but none are based on WAP technology.

The population is becoming increasingly mobile and desire instant communication, access to information and notification services from their wireless devices. As such, Short Message Service (SMS) a very popular service today, has been one of the first messaging tools available for mobile terminals. It is believed to have been sent, for the first time, in December 1992 from a Personal Computer (PC) to a mobile phone on the Vodafone GSM network in the UK [6]. The SMS enables two mobile terminals to exchange text messages, the text can comprise of words or numbers or an alphanumeric combination. But even though very convenient, SMS has fundamental limitations that make it an unsuitable technology with which to provide collaborative services. These limitations include unidirectional messaging; a limited fixed length message (160 characters); a message can only be sent from one point to another point.

3. System Description

3.1 User Scenario

From an end user point of view, the scenario we consider enables mobile users to chat by sending to each other instant messages. They can interact according to the instant responses of their friends/colleagues ("bodies"). In terms of functionality, the users interact with our WAP-Chat application that supports a Wireless Markup Language (WML) interface enabling them to:

  • Select and connect to a given chat server: users can choose among a list of available servers, the closest server to his/her current location (for best performance).
  • Once connected to the chat server, the user can choose from a list of open channels provided by the server the discussion room (channel) that they wish to join.
  • Scroll through the messages sent by other users on a channel.
  • Type and send messages to the channel.
  • Join another channel.
  • Disconnect from the chat server.

  • WAP Collaboration Model.
    WAP Collaboration Model.
    WAP Collaboration Model.
    Fig 1A: User input before connection. Fig 1B: User's WML page (photo). Fig 1C: Example of WML Chat room.