Thursday Morning At The BREW Developers Conference

I’m down in San Diego at the BREW developers conference, trying to get a feel for the wireless app market. Much like the recent CTIA shows, the mood here is very positive, founded largely on the fact that the telecom industry is making money again, after a few hard years at the start of the millennium. Wireless Week has collected some highlights from today’s press releases, and here are some of my take-aways from the morning sessions:

1) Qualcomm’s Paul Jacobs introduced and spoke a lot about a new Qualcomm initiative, UIOne. UIOne is a new way of delivering custom UIs to subscribers either at the factory, or over-the-air. Carriers can push their own UI, or they can allow subscribers to customize their phone based on a particular theme, say NASCAR. Qualcomm didn’t invent this idea, but much like BREW, they don’t need to invent something to be the first to put out a mass commercial solution. Jacobs then told of a 63% increase in BREW operators to 45 from 4/04 to 4/05, and closed with the data point that content developers have, to date, earned US$350 million with BREW, 75% of that in the last 6 months. I spoke with Paul later in the day, and the conversation went towards Qualcomm’s strong commitment to cooperating with the developer community, and avoiding the channel conflict that can occur when a big company competes with its developer partners.

2) Makoto Takahashi from KDDI Japan then took the podium and discussed the market success of WIN, KDDI’s brand for 3G. Takahashi San told of how 91% of KDDI subscribers are on 3G, while that figure is only 21% at DoCoMo (however, we know that DoCoMo has proven with iMode that a successful mobile service is based on much more than just a fast network). The subs on the WIN (EV-DO) network spend far more, on average, for data services than their AU (1xRTT) network: 1,070 yen vs. 310. KDDI has 77% of its WIN subscribers on a new, flat-rate data plan which we have discussed here at TD. Takahashi San related how, with the flat-rate plans, there is a new effort to partner and integrate with other networks (WiFi, TV, radio, DVB, etc.) because with flat-rates, it behooves the carrier to get users off the wireless network. KDDI has launched an app to deal with the plethora of apps they offer: EZ Gamestreet is a search tool that will winnow down the BREW apps for a user based on search terms.

3) Next up was ESPN Mobile’s Manish Jha who focused on the importance of brand with an MVNO. Manish then stressed the strength of the ESPN brand, citing for example that at least 21 children in the USA were actually named “ESPN” as their given name. That’s the kind of brand affinity that has always convinced me that ESPN is one of the most promising MVNOs that we’ll see. The service lineup that Manish presented appears to be quite strong, and ESPN seems to be dedicating appropriate resources to succeed. Later in the day, I spoke with ESPN’s Jha and John Zehr (both of whom I have worked with in the past) and they mentioned that they have North of 70 people on the project. Jha said that mobile content producers will work right in the ESPN control center/studio side-by-side with the TV production staff, and create content appropriate for mobile use — as opposed to re-purposing existing web or TV content. This is the right approach; wireless is its own medium, and deserves custom content.

4) The last of today’s general sessions was Verizon Wireless’ John Stratton. Verizon has been the poster child of BREW for years now, and this event is where the US first started to hear of real money being made in wireless content. VZW offered less data this year than in years past, but still impressed us with their numbers: Mobile Instant messaging, or their version of SMS, is a $100M business to VZW, and growing. Picture messaging saw 40 million messages sent over the network in Q105 – so in case anyone says nobody is sending pictures with their phones (ahem, as we have) they’re off by a few million. Stratton also mentioned that LBS would make its appearance in a few months. About time! That was it for the general sessions, then the conference broke off into multiple tracks. In conclusion, as in previous years, the mood is positive, and the numbers back it up.


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