BARCELONA -- The word WAP, or wireless application protocol, has done wonders for the share prices of many companies. Yet, worryingly, the industry's movers and shakers remain divided over whether WAP will ever really take off.

Credit Suisse First Boston

did its bit for the WAP cause by handing out free

Ericsson

(ERICY)

WAP phones at the technology conference that it hosted earlier this week in Barcelona, Spain. However, what became evident at that conference was that not everyone thinks WAP in its current form is actually capable of doing what it is designed to do: provide users of mobile terminals with rapid and efficient access to the Internet.

The only thing they did seem to agree on was that WAP needs a killer application to really take off.

Investors have generally assumed that WAP automatically will be a success, simply because the idea of accessing and receiving information online via mobile phones and other handheld devices is a good one. This has helped drive up the stocks of European companies such as

CMG

and

Logica

as well as shares of U.S. companies such as

Phone.com

(PHCM)

.

Yet it is early for WAP, evidenced by the fact there are still hardly any WAP phones about. And of those that are on the shelves, none exactly exude sex appeal. In fact, most are ugly, slow and brick-like. The feeling is that WAP, so far and in its current form, is something that rhymes with WAP but starts with "CR" instead.

WAP in Need of a Whopping Application

Gareth Hughes, managing director of

Psion Internet

, a division of the handheld device maker Psion, seems unconvinced by the current technology, saying WAP is "not the full Internet answer" and is in fact "rather limited."

Robin Saxby, chief executive and chairman of

ARM Holdings

(ARMHY)

, is of the same mindset. And he should know: Saxby is well-known as an Inspector Gadget type who fills his life with as many ARM-powered gizmos as he can get his hands on, including WAP phones.

"It'll be all right one day," says Saxby. "The key question is, What is the WAP service to make WAP take off?" The ARM chief is a big fan of share price, restaurant, traffic and airline information, but reckons digital audio and video streaming could be the killer application that will make WAP take off.

Freeserve's

(FREE)

chief executive John Pluthero was a lot more downbeat. He told the CSFB conference that it's all been a bit disappointing and there is a risk that it could backfire altogether.

"I'd be surprised if you end up using WAP for any length of time," Pluthero said, adding that other technologies are coming to the fore that could replace it.

One thing is for sure: WAP is still a very new innovation and one that can only get better, because it can't get any worse. At the moment, it seems the only logical reason to pay for a WAP phone is the same reason you might have spent a fortune on one of the first mobile phones in the 1980s -- you like showing off and playing with executive toys.

The jury is still out on whether a killer application will appear anytime soon to help WAP fulfill the hype. Alas, booking a table at the local

Pizza Express

through the Internet over a mobile device isn't it.