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Qualcomm takes cell phone software to work

The company's data-downloading software gets a boost from a Japanese firm, which plans to use it to launch a corporate e-mail service. It'll be a first trip behind the corporate firewall for BREW.

Qualcomm's data-downloading software for cell phones is getting down to serious business.

Japanese data and telecommunications company KDDI said Monday it plans a November debut for "Katai Office," among the first-ever corporate e-mail programs available to phones using Qualcomm's binary runtime environment for wireless (BREW) software.

The announcement is a significant milestone for BREW, which is used by about a dozen carriers to sell downloadable ring tones, games or video mail programs. Never before has a BREW phone been able to connect with a corporate network and download Microsoft Outlook or other corporate e-mail, according to a Qualcomm representative.

Katai Office will also help Qualcomm level the playing field with Sun Microsystems' rival Java2 Micro Edition (J2ME) software, though Sun could also benefit indirectly from the deal. Although Sprint PCS, Cingular Wireless and Sun's 40 or so other partners sell dozens of different games and ring tones, their offerings are sparse when it comes to BlackBerry-like e-mail experiences for cell phones, according to Jupiter Research analyst Joe Laszlo.

"There's not a ton of widely available heavy business applications that use the cell phone as the device of choice," Laszlo said. "So in a sense, this is progress for both Sun and Qualcomm."

A Sun representative had no immediate comment.

Cell phone providers all hope to match the success of carriers in Japan, where tens of millions of subscribers spend about $12 a month on data-oriented features. But as in the United States, Japanese carriers are relatively new to selling items tailored for the corporate set. Katai Office will be the first "hard-core" business application from KDDI, said Bill Nguyen, founder of Redwood City, Calif.-based Seven. KDDI hired Seven to handle billing and take care of most other back-end tasks for Katai Office, plus a similar offering from Japan's NTT DoCoMo.

In the United States, wireless downloaders spend relatively little on nonvoice service. But that market, under the right circumstances, could blossom to more than $22 billion by 2008, according to research analysts Strategy Analytics.