Sprint OpenWeb Update

Sprint LogoI've found out a little more about the OpenWeb transcoder that US CDMA/EVDO provider Sprint is rolling out which I wrote about last week. If you missed that piece, Sprint has added a transcoder from OpenWave called OpenWeb to at least some of their WAP gateways. The stated purpose of OpenWeb is to transform full web pages that wouldn't be usable on handsets into something mobile friendly. The problem is that the OpenWeb software modifies the browser's http headers, removing some and adding others which breaks many off-portal content (ringtone, wallpaper, game) delivery services. OpenWeb also transcodes many mobile websites that don't need it, removing formatting, corrupting transparent GIF images and generally making the sites ugly and harder to use.

The main thing that's happened since Friday is that Sprint, after launching this thing in stealth mode at least a couple weeks ago, has issued a press release touting the product's features and is also reaching out to mobile developers in this thread on the Sprint Application Developer Portal (ADP) forum.

The Sprint Forum thread contains a PDF with some basic information about how the transcoder operates. If you have a mobile website you should read the document although I'm not sure how accurate it is.

The PDF suggests that the OpenWeb transcoder will not modify sites with urls matching the patterns *.mobi, m.*, wp.*, mobile.*, wireless.* and pda.* and that owners of mobile sites not matching those patterns should request that their sites be excluded by posting a request to the Sprint Developer Forum thread linked above. The document also claims that sites sending the cache-control no-transform header will not be modified.

Exclusion by domain/subdomain doesn't seem to actually be working, especially for m.* and *.mobi sites. I found that m.wapreview.com and yeswap.mobi along with lots of other sites including find.mobi, taptu.mobi and even m.gmail.com are still being transcoded. Requesting that your site be excluded does seem to work though. I requested exclusion for yeswap.com and mini.opera.com last Friday and they are both coming through un-modified now. Forget about cache-control no-transform though, yeswap.mobi and mp.wapreview.com both send it but get transformed anyway. I suggest that you submit a request for your sites even they are on *.mobi, m.*, etc. domains just to be sure.

Unless you have a Sprint handset there's really no way to tell if your site's being transcoded. If you do have a Sprint phone you can generally tell just by looking at the screen but if in doubt use the device's Show URL browser menu command. If it starts with http://sprint.aopwv.com/ you are being transcoded.

Which raises an interesting point. Some US and English speaking international mobile developers have heard of the Sprint/Openwave transcoding issue as it's been picked up by MobHappy, Mike Rowehl, Jason Delport, Semapedia.org and RCR Wireless News. But I'm sure that 100's of thousands of mobile site owners and content providers around the world have no idea that Sprint is trampling on their content and that they have to register on Sprint's developer portal and ask that their markup and headers be left alone. This sort of whitelisting is completely unscalable on the vast world wide (mobile) web. I encourage every mobile site owner to contact Sprint and request exclusion. If you have a blog and care about the open mobile web please put up a post and link to here and/or one of the other sites that's covering this issue. I'd love to see Sprint get swamped with thousands of exclusion requests. Maybe they would start to realize that what they are doing is a huge screw up.

It's not clear if users can request that sites they use but don't own be whitelisted. A Sprint representive quoted by RCR Wireless News seems to suggest they can;

"As we complete our rollout of the mobile Web enhancement, some sites optimized for mobile nay not be recognized as such, so we are providing customers/developers the opportunity to request mobile-friendly sites be added to the exclusion list by going to the Sprint Application Developer Program Web site at http://developer.sprint.com and posting a request in the Wireless Web and Messaging forum..."

But on developer.sprint.com users requesting exclusion are told;

"To expedite processing of registration requests, unless already provided as part of your ADP account registration, we'd appreciate your providing contact information to validate your authority to make 'mobile-friendly site/domain registration' requests on behalf of the host/domain owner."

Anyway, if there is a site that you use and do not own that's impacted by OpenWeb, I suggest that you request it be excluded too, although what Sprint really should do is to make OpenWeb optional by providing a way for users to turn it off both site by site and globally.

According to Sprint, the OpenWave rollout is not complete with only about 40% of users being affected so far. The full network should be covered within 30 days so we aren't seeing the full effect yet.

Many well known mobile sites are being transcoded by OpenWeb, including grandcentral.com/mobile, mowser.com, skweezer.net, JumpTap.com, mippin.com, mdog.com, and ovi.nokia.com.

OpenWeb's reformatting of sites is actually worse than I thought. Last week I wrote that it preserved most CSS styling including background colors, box borders and floats. Either something has changed or I was seeing some untranscoded sites without realizing it. OpenWeb seems to ignore external style sheets entirely. With internal styles, text-align:center and possibly a few other CSS rules are applied. OpenWeb also displays transparent background GIF images with an ugly gray background so even very simple sites using a transparent GIF logo are effected.

17 thoughts on “Sprint OpenWeb Update

  1. HELP! When i click 2 some sites my phone says i need a handler for this content when i click it takes me 2 search content. How do i get this handler?
  2. The problem goes further than the look of the site. Many sites won't show a url at all, after aopwv.com there is just a number, so you don't know what the actual address is and if you go to send page, you will be sending a totally upless link. Is there anyway to disable it?

    Sent from my mobile using FeedM8
  3. NC,

    Thank's for the Howard Forums link.

    To summarize what it says, reportedly by hacking your phone it's possible to change the User Agent and the HTTP_HTTP_X_WAP_PROFILE header by doing a low level file edit. With these two headers changed the transcoder won't recognize the device as mobile.

    I'm not really sure I want to try that as I want to be able to track what's happening with OpenWeb and I use Opera Mini for all "real" browsing anyway.

    In any case I'm traveling out of the country and can't use Sprint at all. Maybe when I get back to the States next week I'll give it a try, just for research purposes.

    As far as I know there is no way for the user to opt out of the transcoder eith by a secret keystroke or through the Sprint Developer site.
  4. Dennis --

    I also have a Samsung A920 and have noticed the difference in my phone's built-in browser (when I am using it (e.g., to see animated GIFs) instead of Opera Mini). I have found that usually if I immediately refresh a transcoded page (Menu, 9) it will refresh in its former nontranscoded appearance. However, this is obviously twice the effort as before the change, and it doesn't always work.

    Would you consider trying any changes to your A920's files (something like what has been reported at the following URL:
    http://www.howardforums.com/showthread.php?t=1348259 ) to see if transcoding could be disabled/bypassed? You seem to be more tech-savvy than I am, so I would rather have you check this out and then I could follow your lead if you get it to work.

    Do you know if there is any way (say on the Sprint developer website) for someone to modify his/her own telephone settings via its # and ESN such that all transcoding would be disabled just for that phone? I wish there would be an option on any transcoded page (even a hidden "accesskey" hyperlink like the asterisk *) that would, when pressed/clicked, load the page in the "old" (nontranscoded) way. I'm going to try calling Sprint (again) to ask about these ideas.

    -- NC
  5. Adam,

    The handset asking for a handler is a sign that the file is not in the correct format. This is becuase the ringtone site can't recognize the phone because of the transcoder and isn't sending the required .gcd file.

    Reportedly, funformobile.com and dbringers.info have been white listed and now work with the OpenWeb transcoder but rumkin.com is still broken.
  6. According to a response from a Sprint employee on email (a response to a query I posted to the thread in the forum) - if you don't modify the UserAgent your content should not be touched.
    (In other word - they only "help" client with Browser user agents).

    this may be true, but it did not solve my issue - which is an HTTP 504 response from their proxy to an HTTP post request.
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