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Developers embrace Qualcomm's Brew

Qualcomm claims its new mobile technology is primed to challenge Java and give end-users access to new kinds of applications on their mobile phones.

In a sign of growing support for Binary Runtime Environment for Wireless (Brew), a number of third-party developers showed off new applications for the technology at the Cellular Telecommunications & Internet Association (CTIA) event this week.

Both Brew and Java 2 Micro Edition (J2ME) - a compact version of Java - should give software developers better platforms for developing complex programs for mobile phones. Nokia and other manufacturers are already making Java-enabled handsets, and large mobile operators including NTT DoCoMo and Nextel Communications are selling Java-enabled handsets.

Even though Java is thriving and Brew is just taking off, Qualcomm received much developer support at the CTIA event.

Operators such as Verizon Wireless, Korea Telecom Freetel and Japan's KDDI are working with Qualcomm to push Brew technology forward. Trials are currently being conducted in Korea and are just getting underway with Verizon in the US, said Rob Chandhok, senior director of business development at Qualcomm.

A number of application developers - including OmniSky, Togabi Technologies and Visto - also demonstrated new applications built around Brew.

OmniSky showcased its Hollywood.com program that finds times, locations and reviews of movies to send to users' mobile phones. On the multimedia front, Togabi showed a streaming media player that allows users to run audio and video clips on handsets. Visto unwrapped a Brew-based messaging application allowing corporate users to access and manage their e-mail accounts and contacts via a mobile phone.

"We made a serious effort with Brew to add in a business model that works for developers," Chandhok said.

Qualcomm helps carriers set up systems for managing downloads of Brew applications onto devices, including a billing system to track how many times an application is downloaded and how much the developer should receive as payment for their software. In many cases, a Brew developer will receive 80% of the revenue generated when a consumer pays for an application, with the carriers taking the remaining 20%.

Brew has an arguably tighter relationship with the processors inside handsets than J2ME, as it sits between the processors' system software and the application. To run Java-based applications, users need to install Java Virtual Machine (JVM) on the device. The close link between Brew and the devices' chips could make Brew applications run faster than similar applications written for the notoriously slow Java.

Although Brew currently runs only on Qualcomm chipsets using Code Division Multiple Access (CDMA) technology, manufacturers are expected to support Brew on both CDMA and non-CDMA chipsets in the near future.

Brew developers must also receive certification from Qualcomm for their applications, which Qualcomm says adds a layer of security for the end-user. "We always know the identity of the developers who have written the code on a device and can recall the applications over our network if there is a problem," Chandhok said.

A study issued in July by ResearchPortal.com claims that Brew could pull ahead of Java over the next few years.

"Java has been around much longer than Brew, giving it a built-in familiarity and developer base that will cause it to be used more in the near term," the ResearchPortal report said.

"However, the advantages of familiarity will be relatively short-lived, as research suggests that Brew will be more compelling for use in the next-generation mobile phones, allowing it to outstrip Java-enabled devices by 2003."

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