TORONTO–Bell Mobility on Wednesday said the decision to power its next generation (1X) network with Java technology was all about leverage.
On Tuesday, Bell announced it had chosen Sun Microsystems Inc.’s Java technology to deliver services to handsets on the network, and at its Fourth Annual Wireless Internet Conference on Wednesday, Bell executives said employing Java will allow the company to exploit the language’s large and international base of programmers.
“”We’ve chosen Java because it is a widely pervasive standard,”” said Adel Bazerghi, director of wireless Internet and data product development for Bell Mobility.
According to Sun vice-president of business development Cheryln Chin, Java developers worldwide number three million, with 54 per cent of the worldwide developer community using the language this year. Java, she said, makes the developer’s life easier and potentially more profitable because the language is device and network agnostic, and that includes networks that have yet to be developed.
“”You can run the same application on GSM and CDMA. You’re not writing to one network any longer, you’re just writing to an application. So as long as they’re written in Java, they will run on the a future network,”” she said.
Richard Roeder, technical specialist for Microsoft Canada Co.‘s BCE account team, said he was surprised by the announcement but stressed that developers must consider its .Net initiative and .Net Compact Framework, which compete with Java, are focused on data portability.
“”We’re betting the farm that data portability is more important than application portability,”” he said. “”.Net does not mean no Java. It is about putting a framework in place that allows the developer to focus on business applications rather than core plumbing.””
But IDC Canada Ltd. software director Alister Sutherland said Roeder’s claim is really only true for homogeneous environments which rarely exist in the real wireless world, and added Bell’s endorsement of Java is a setback for Microsoft.
According to Sun, Java is a safe bet because it runs on top of all platforms while .Net locks users into the Windows environment.
“”The industry is turning to Java because it works and because there’s value for everyone in the value chain,”” Chin said.
For customers, the value-add is a graphic-friendly interface for games, video clips and maps, as well as corporate presentations. For carriers like Bell, the appeal is added revenue potential.
“”All the studies out there are indicating that the growth in data revenue will be larger than the growth in voice revenue,”” Bazerghi said. “”What we’re trying to do right now is not an indicator of (shrinking) margins. In order to keep going in exponential growth, you need to grow in data.””
Bell would ideally like to replicate the early success Japan’s NTT DoCoMo has experienced since launching its Sun Java-powered “”i appli”” service in January 2001. Chin said the service now has 12.5 million users, who can access 5,000 Java applications from six different colour handsets.
Bell’s network is in place, as is the application community, and nearly half of Canadians have access to a mobile phone. What still needs to be in place is the infrastructure. Bell expects to start trials in the fourth quarter of this year and have commercial applications available for the first quarter of 2003. But Charlotte Burke, Bell’s senior vice-president of next generation networks and services, said it could be a while before Bell sees DoCoMo-style success with Java as penetration will be dependent on both the cost of devices and market readiness.
Chin said the revenue increase from Java-enabled data services could be more than $100 million annually per carrier in Canada, based on adoption in countries with similar mobile-phone penetration rates. But she admitted the comparisons don’t take into account the differences in say the European and Canadian markets. For example, Europe has embraced SMS messaging, while Canadians are at best lukewarm to the service according to a March report by the Yankee Group in Canada.
Burke said a cross-carrier plan adopted by all four Canada mobile providers last November will increase SMS usage and interest. She expects Canadians, especially in the youth and business markets, to adopt Java-powered applications before users in the United States. And she said the youth market for mobile service in Canada has grown to the point where it is now about equal to the national average.
“”At least in terms of wireless data, it was business users using financial applications and communications applications,”” she said. “”It’s not that that’s gone away, it’s that we’ve seen a shift in the youth market.””
Bell has not yet settled on a pricing structure for Java applications on its 1X network, which launched in February and is currently serving Ottawa, Toronto, Montreal and Quebec City with data speeds of up to 144 Kbps and cruising speeds as high as 86 Kbps.
Eric Chu, group manager of industry marketing for Sun’s software systems group, said Asian carriers are currently using a number of revenue models, including megabyte packages, virtual storage space for downloads and pay-per-play games.
“”You want to make it easy for them the game and easy to pay for it as well,”” he said.