BREW 2007 ConferenceTuesday, June 26, 2007
BREW, Qualcomm's Binary Runtime Environment for Wireless, is not simply an environment for developers who want to write applications to run on wireless devices. It is a complete ecosystem, providing wireless network operators that deploy BREW-capable devices with an end-to-end set of solutions. Qualcomm works with developers and then certifies the applications, which are either hosted on a BREW server within Qualcomm or hosted by the network operator. The applications are then made available to customers to download and use. The last part of the ecosystem is a payment schedule that divides the income among the network operator, developer/publisher and Qualcomm. This year's payout to the developer community was more than one $billion according to Dr. Paul Jacobs, Qualcomm's CEO.
The first BREW Conference was held in 2001 and I have attended every year. This year's was the biggest yet with more than 2,500 attendees, several hundred sessions and more than 60 exhibitors. Qualcomm sure knows how to throw a party, or rather a series of parties surrounded by some serious work.
When BREW was first introduced for public consumption, it had already been included in Qualcomm chipsets used for internal phone operations. It was picked up by Verizon Wireless and a few other network operators. Sprint opted out, going with Java instead, and the world's analysts believed Java would be the big winner with BREW a distant follower. This has turned into a very different story. According to M:Metrics, as of April 2007, multimedia consumption by consumers saw Java with a 53% market share and BREW with a 38% share, not exactly a distant follower. In addition, according to the show daily (published by Fierce Wireless), the BREW subscriber base grew to more than 58 million, accounting for 28.4% of all U.S. subscribers. One final noteworthy figure is that 36% of BREW subscribers spend more than $80 per month on wireless services as compared to an industry average of 30% of non-BREW customers.
By all accounts, BREW has been a very successful development platform for Qualcomm and the wireless community. At this year's conference, Sprint was on hand with a booth and speakers because while it is still using Java, its user interface is now based on uiOne and it is clearly moving in the BREW direction. But more interesting is the uptake of BREW and uiOne overseas. As you would expect, KDDI in Japan uses BREW, as does Vivo in Brazil. What you might not know is that Hutchison 3G, O2 and Telecom Italia, typically part of the GSM community and therefore the Java wireless community, have all embraced BREW to one degree or another.
BREW is still mostly about games and other consumer applications, although products such as Verizon Wireless' VZ Navigator developed by Networks In Motion and other location-based service products are available via BREW. Business applications are still, for the most part, non-existent. The developer awards program listed the finalists in a number of categories and the vast majority of the contenders had applications for consumers and a lot of games. There were a few for location-based services and a banking application or two, but the list of finalists was heavily focused on consumer applications.
At each year's BREW conference, I ask the same question: When will we see more business applications for BREW? One of the stumbling blocks for business applications seems to be that BREW applications need to reside on a server located either behind the network's firewall or hosted by Qualcomm. Most corporations don't want their applications, let alone data, outside of their own firewall where they know they can protect both the applications and the data. Perhaps Qualcomm's newest announcement made during BREW 2007 Conference will help spur more business applications.
The new concept is called "BREW BrandXtend" and it is designed to provide wireless customers with the ability to employ BREW applications served up directly from a company's Website instead of through a network operator or Qualcomm's BREW servers.
Major League Baseball was the first company to stand up and embrace this new way of delivering content on its MLB.com Website. What will be available directly to wireless customers includes wireless, interactive content from the MLB.com site and sites belonging to Major League Baseball teams. While this first offering is aimed at consumers, more specifically, baseball fans, it is my understanding that the same delivery technology could be used by corporations for business applications.
BREW BrandXtend is basically a way for brands to deliver content off-deck, that is, content that is on the site but not part of the network's catalog of service offerings. This might be viewed as BREW going beyond the 'walled garden' many networks have been providing to their customers. Qualcomm states that BrandXtend provides network operators with a way to monetize this content even though it is not delivered via their own servers or BREW servers.
There is no reason that this new technology could not become part of corporations' wireless strategies and a way for them to deliver both applications and data that were designed for their own company's use. There is no doubt that BREW has been successful in catering to the consumer marketplace. The developers who have embraced BREW are making more money, it is reported, than the Java development community. There was a stutter in the upswing of applications for both BREW and Java last year because of the glut of applications on the market and consumers' inability to find exactly what they wanted among the clutter. Since then, most network operators have gone back to the drawing boards and revamped their offerings adding search capabilities, cleaning up their catalogs, etc. to make it easier to find and download applications.
It appears as though things are back on track, at least according to the latest statistics. According to WDSGlobal, total data revenues for U.S. network operators for 2006 set a number of records including one that the U.S. is the only country in the world in which three network operators generated more than $4 billion each in data revenue. The numbers for 2006 are as follows:
Network 2006 Data as a % of Total ARPU
Verizon Wireless $4.4B 16%
AT&T $4.25B 14%
Sprint Nextel $4.0B 14%
T-Mobile $1.6B 13%
These numbers are healthy and growing. When Verizon Wireless, Sprint Nextel and then AT&T starting rolling out their 3G data capabilities, they started where they always do, courting the business marketplace. Historically, wireless services start with business customers and then expand outward to include consumers. This time, however, the uptake within the business community was slow to materialize and networks shifted their focus to the consumer marketplace.
Obviously, this strategy paid off and the market for services and applications continues to grow. Mobile TV is available on-network and Verizon Wireless has launched thirty markets in conjunction with MediaFLO, with AT&T not far behind. One point Dr. Paul Jacobs made at the BREW conference is that MediaFLO is not only about mobile TV, it is a way to deliver a lot of different content, including streaming data. Embedded in MediaFLO is the ability to dedicate a data channel for delivery of large applications and services that would take longer to download over traditional two-way wireless networks. I expect that while these datacasts will only be a small portion of MediaFLO's business, they will be important to the business community, providing companies with the ability to distribute new price lists, presentations and even video clips to their mobile workforce.
Dr. Paul Jacobs also told the developers that the combination of MediaFLO and BREW will provide them with even more opportunities to develop and deliver applications. I hope at next year's conference we will see a higher proportion of developers working on business applications and more who will take the pieces and parts that make up location-based services and embed them in other applications. To me, LBS is not about standalone applications (with the possible exception of navigation and traffic), it is about enabling many other applications with location capabilities.
All in all, the word on the BREW 2007 Conference is that it was the most successful yet and the developer community continues to expand and thrive. BREW is not confined to CDMA anymore and as more CDMA and UMTS devices come to market sporting Qualcomm BREW-capable chipsets, I think we will see BREW expand around the world-in spite of the recent ITC ruling!
Andrew M. Seybold