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Qualcomm warms to Sun's Java

The chipmaker says it has licensed download software from Sun Microsystems, in a deal that puts rival technologies--incompatible until now--into the same cell phone.

Qualcomm says it has licensed download software from Sun Microsystems, a deal that puts rival technologies into the same cell phone.

San Diego-based Qualcomm on Thursday announced that some cell phone chips in its MSM 6000 family now support programs developed using Sun's version of Java for cell phones. Phones built from the chips will download programs using both Qualcomm's Binary Runtime Environment for Wireless (BREW) and Java programs, Qualcomm said.

Both Sun and Qualcomm sell software applications that enable wireless devices to download and run small programs for playing games and sending messages, among other features. But until now, and Qualcomm's BREW have been completely incompatible. Java, the more popular of the two applications, is used by about 34 carriers worldwide, while BREW has about eight carrier customers.

"Qualcomm is listening to their customers, and their customers are saying they want Java," said Sun product manager Nicolas Lorain.

Qualcomm said some handset makers already have the new chips in hand, but did not project when the phones would become available. The company supplies cell phone chips to all of the major handset makers, including Nokia and Motorola. A Qualcomm representative did not return calls seeking comment.

A Sun representative said Qualcomm licensed the Java technology from Sun, but did not disclose financial terms.

Joe Laszlo, a wireless analyst with Jupiter Research, believes Qualcomm is making a defensive move. Qualcomm's cell phone chips, which use the company's Code Division Multiple Access (CDMA) technology, power about 18 percent of the world's phones. But some CDMA customers, including Sprint PCS, have chosen to use Java instead of BREW.

"This could be an effort to keep their CDMA customers," he said.

Many of the world's wireless carriers have turned to downloads as a new source of revenue because cutthroat competition has lowered the price of their most important product, voice calls, to record lows in recent years. The carriers are selling downloadable programs for between $1 and $5 each.