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Nokia's Preminet aims to chill Qualcomm's BREW

The "one-stop shop" lets wireless operators sell ring tones, games, picture messaging and other cell phone paraphernalia.

SAN FRANCISCO--Cell phone maker Nokia on Sunday unveiled Preminet, a "one-stop shop" for wireless operators that want to sell ring tones, games, picture messaging and other cell phone paraphernalia and services, a move that opens a new battle front with competitor Qualcomm.

Preminet, a distribution and transaction service, is similar to Qualcomm's BREW, which is now used by about three dozen carriers. Nokia is offering Preminet in conjunction with mobile media publishing company Starcut, which will provide music and other content, according to a statement.

The Preminet system excludes BREW applications, instead favoring ones based on Sun Microsystems' J2ME programming language. Nokia director Steen Thygesen said BREW was rejected because its proliferation is no match for J2ME, which is embedded in nearly one-third of the world's 1.7 billion cell phones. By comparison, Qualcomm in October there were 38 million BREW devices on the market.

"BREW is an interesting, proprietary solution for an early-stage market," Thygesen said. "It's for carriers that want to get a start. We're looking at a system for the longer-term market."

Asked to respond, a Qualcomm executive said, "We're extremely flattered" by what she described as a copycat service.

Nokia and Qualcomm last clashed in May 2003, when Nokia, Texas Instruments and STMicroelectronics announced plans to develop phone chips based on the CDMA standard. Qualcomm owns many of the patents to CDMA, and generates a lion's share of revenue by selling CDMA chips and licensing its intellectual property to chipmakers.

The latest Nokia move directs a spotlight on the wireless data market, which currently represents about 5 percent of annual revenue. Wireless operators believe that number will ultimately grow to 20 percent.

Juha Christensen, president of the mobile and device business at Macromedia, said he believes data services revenue will eventually dwarf revenue generated by voice calls. "Voice will start fading into the background," he said during a panel discussion Sunday at the CTIA Wireless I.T. & Entertainment 2004 conference here. Nokia unveiled Preminet at the same show.