Gaining some ground on Sun Microsystems' dominant Java technology, Qualcomm's "BREW" software for downloading applications to cell phones has racked up a win in a crucial part of the prized Asian market.
The San Diego-based chipmaker announced on Wednesday a software-development deal with China Unicom that will likely lead to the Chinese carrier offering some BREW (Binary Runtime Environment for Wireless) services. That would place the program into the hands of tens of millions of Chinese citizens and make China Unicom the eighth carrier to commit to using the technology.
"Asia has been a pretty big sweet spot for Qualcomm," IDC analyst Keith Waryas said. "Already, they've got South Korea. Japan is also looking interesting. And China Unicom is China's largest carrier."
Qualcomm is trying to loosen Sun's stranglehold on the market for software that wireless carriers use to sell downloadable ring tones or more complicated applications. A cell phone-size version of Sun's Java programming language, known as J2ME, dominates the market for now, being used by about 20 carriers worldwide.
But BREW is quietly picking up steam, mainly on the strength of existing relationships Qualcomm has with many Asian carriers that choose to use the company's Code Division Multiple Access (CDMA) software to run cell phones and networks. Earlier this week, South Korean carrier KDDI launched a download service using BREW.
Sun Microsystems' mobile products marketing manager, Eric Chu, doesn't see Qualcomm's recent in-roads as a threat. "We think it's great that Qualcomm is validating the wireless data market," Chu said.
Most of the cell phone service providers using Sun's wireless download system are in Asia, Chu said.
Aside from strengthening Qualcomm's foothold in the Asia region as a whole, the China deal gives the company a leg up in an especially sought-after market.
China is proving to be an important battleground between the two technologies, IDC's Waryas said, because major carriers there are just beginning to build infrastructure outside of urban centers and reaching areas where there are no landline phones. Decisions about what download technology to use are still to be made.
For many Chinese, the cell phone will be their first phone, Waryas said. That's not the case for U.S. wireless dialers, who still prefer to use their old landline connections for Web surfing and only rely on cell phones to make calls. China's wireless might be more open to downloads and other wireless data, according to Waryas.
"You're not trying to break down old conceptions," Waryas said. "You're starting with a fresh slate."