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Qualcomm brews partnerships

The company adds Wireless Knowledge to the team of developers working on BREW, Qualcomm's two-week-old entry into the alphabet soup of wireless standards.

Qualcomm's BREW is now percolating in 20 pots.

Qualcomm on Tuesday added Wireless Knowledge to the team of developers working on BREW (Binary Runtime Environment for Wireless), Qualcomm's two-week-old entry into the alphabet soup of wireless technology standards. It comes as no surprise, given that Wireless Knowledge is a joint venture of Qualcomm and Microsoft, but it does underscore the bet the wireless technology provider is making on its software.

Qualcomm is entering a crowded market for software that runs on wireless devices. In creating its BREW software system, the company hopes to gain the support of numerous companies, but has yet to announce any large backers.

"BREW is going to need a significant player," said Jupiter Research wireless analyst Joe Laszlo.

Wireless Knowledge is the 20th developer to sign deals with Qualcomm. Last week, MP3.com, the embattled file-swapping service turned best friend of the recording industry, announced that it's trying to create a way to deliver music by way of the BREW platform.

Other developers include game-makers Jamdat and Bandai Networks, wireless browser maker Pixo and content provider AvantGo.

Don't consider Tuesday's announcement as anything more than just Microsoft keeping its irons in the standards fire, according to the Redmond giant's executives.

"Microsoft has many relationships with many different companies," said Microsoft's Scott Gode, who directs marketing for the company's mobility group. "But that doesn't mean we support, or align, with anybody."

BREW's unveiling two weeks ago marked the sixth entry into the growing number of software platforms for cell phones. Qualcomm said the software will let developers write just one version of any type of application for cell phones.

BREW's real success will be judged on what cell phone makers do to add to the technology as next generation phones hit the market, according to analysts.

The market potential is huge. Qualcomm's CDMA-based chips, which enable cell phones to connect to the Web, will run BREW. CDMA chips are now embedded in 71 million phones.

So far, none of the handset makers have signaled one way or the other, although Qualcomm claims to have signed nonbinding memorandums of understanding with wireless carriers including Verizon Wireless, plus "several manufacturers," including Samsung, Kyocera Wireless and Pegaso in Mexico.

Jupiter's Lazlo believes that Sun Microsystem's Java-based wireless software is still an early favorite in the standards sprint.

The technology has already been introduced in Japan, built into the NTT DoCoMo phones. Sun and Motorola are also working on a Java-enabled phone for the U.S. markets. "On its face, just adding Wireless Knowledge to the mix doesn't mean Qualcomm is more of a credible threat to Java," he said.