If you have been looking for an update of last month’s Mobile Monday Bangalore on this blog site and didn’t manage to find it, it’s because I was absent at the event. I had a family function to attend on the same day. So I was more than keen to attend yesterday’s event. Better still, it was at the Indiranagar Sangeet Sabha which is a spacious venue with good arrangements; and it is only ten minutes walk from my office.
The first piece of important information was that Forum Nokia is the first sponsor of Mobile Monday Bangalore on a long-term basis, starting from this month’s event. The more interesting aspect is that the first sponsorship money went towards providing Qualcomm a platform to present BREW to the MoMo community.
BREW (Binary Runtime Environment for Wireless) is an application development framework that provides developers a rich set of API for quick and easy development of mobile applications. For end users, the user experience is enhanced. When these two are met, the man-in-the-middle (the operator) stands to benefit as well. In fact, BREW enables operators to reach subscribers with a richer set of applications. The end result is a win-win situation for everyone.
What is the problem today? Rakesh Godhwani of Qualcomm pointed out that the network is ready, devices are ready but content is lagging far behind. With networks getting upgraded to HSPA and CDMA2000 EV-DO, bandwidth appears to be available. With handsets able to operate to full capability in such networks, the only thing that’s missing are the applications. In my opinion, this is a rather simplified view if not biased, but it is partially correct and the argument holds water.
Take the example of BSNL’s recent launch of CDMA2000 EV-DO. Someone announced that this service has been launched in a couple of circles in Kerala, not as handsets but as data cards. I don’t know much about EV-DO but I would expect it to exist with the same hype as HSPA where guaranteed high bandwidth to individual users is rare if it happens at all. It’s a shared bandwidth under non-ideal channel conditions only occasionally close to the base station. So what if applications are not available? Is the market ready? Are subscribers willing to pay? Is the pricing attractive? What’s the predicted change in consumption patterns of mobile subscribers? Are these subscribers changing on a social level when it comes to tele-interaction?
But the importance of applications cannot be underestimated. If not more important, applications are just as important as a subscriber’s choice of an operator or a handset. For VAS, what we are seeing is a fragmentation of device, technology and networks. It is perhaps only applications that have the ability to give subscribers a seamless experience across these diverse environments. The onus is therefore on the developer to develop applications that can work in more than one environment. A case in point is the fragmentation of the PC market between Windows and Linux. The choice there is obvious for developers but in the world of mobiles there is no obvious choice. Developers would have to consider Symbian, Linux, Windows Mobile, J2ME, BREW, Maemo or Android without being dismissive of any of them.
As for BREW, the case is strong. As of November 2006, BREW was being used by 69 global operators, by 45 device manufacturers and in 31 countries. Every CDMA mobile deployed in India supports BREW. CDMA taking up almost 30% of the Indian market, the outreach for developers for their application is no small number. The additional advantage is that price negotiation and revenue sharing is done between Qualcomm and the developer without involvement of the operator who is free to charge his premium to the end user. Having said that, other business models are also possible. Lucrative, yes. It also means that Qualcomm has to make the decision of pick-and-chose. Only applications that are unique and have a promise for the market will get a chance. It is something like writing a fiction novel. Publishers look for market value in conjunction with individuality of writing.
How does one entice the subscriber? Give a free trial for two weeks. Once he gets used to it, chances are he will buy it once his trail starts to expire. Getting new and exciting applications is one thing and using it is another. A successful application must be easy to download and install. The user interface must be elegant and intuitive. It must be attractive and useful. All these are challenges on a device that is so much smaller than a laptop monitor. In India, we are still a long way from getting there. Only 10% of revenue is from VAS, much of which comes from SMS-based services. This is where companies like Mango Technologies make a difference with solutions targetted towards low-end handsets and the cautious spender.
BREW doesn’t come on its own just for developers. There is an entire platform built around it for service delivery, billing, subscription and so forth. One such framework is uiOne whose software framework is captured in Figure 1 . This enables easier rollout and maintenance of services on the carrier network.
Figure 1: uiOne Software Framework
Following Rakesh’s informal and interactive presentation, there was a short demo of an LBS application running of BREW. It was shown on a Motorola phone from Tata. My user experience was good but nothing out of the ordinary. Perhaps this is because I prefer to explore the environment on my own rather than let someone else tell me where the nearest restaurant is. In this demo, assisted-GPS was used which enables locating the subscriber indoors even without good satellite reception. This is because the access network sends satellite information to the mobile for location computation. In addition, Qualcomm employs many proprietory fallback mechanisms to locate a mobile. Once of these is called Advanced Follow Link Triangulation; there are six others. LBS is one of the promising applications but we are yet to see the “killer” LBS application. Point to note: developers are to tie up with map and GIS data providers on their own and Qualcomm is not involved in this at the moment. In fact, developing and deploying an LBS application is a challenge because it involves so many parties – operators, government (for privacy), map providers, developers, OEMs, chipset makers.
The philosophy of Qualcomm is of three parameters – innovation, partnership and execution. R&D spending is 20% profits. The end subscriber is kept in view but their main business is to license their technology to OEMs and operators. Thus, they say that Qualcomm has a high number of engineers (who innovate) and lawyers (who protect the licenses). Idea generation is an important activity in the company. Once a promising idea comes to the fore everyone brings it to fruition by taking it from being an idea towards making it a product.
The meeting ended with a short presentation by Forum Nokia. They talked about Symbian and its many components. They talked about Maemo, Widsets and FlashLite, about which I will write separately. This presentation, seen within the context of Qualcomm’s, highlighted that diversity in all aspects of the mobile world is here to stay. If we cannot agree, let us compete.
- Personalizing Information Delivery with uiOne™, deliveryOne™, and the BREW Express™ Signature Solution; Qualcomm, 80-D7262-1 Rev. C, March 7, 2007.