Qualcomm has been struggling to sell BREW handsets outside CDMA markets for some time now. Its first breakthrough came with operator O2’s announcement in November 2005 that it will sell BREW-based handsets within its ‘X’ range of branded handsets. Later it emerged that O2 was buying the uiOne on-device portal and idle-screen customisation client-side application, but not DeliveryOne, Qualcomms’ back-end content and application delivery server-side infrastructure.
Today, a year later from the O2 press release, Qualcomm announced that operator Telecom Italia Mobile (TIM) has agreed to launch two BREW handsets, the Onda N5050 which will feature uiOne with downloadable themes, and the Samsung Z630. Both handsets support BREW extensions for 3D games, which in association with Gameloft will allow for downloadable 3D games to TIM subscribers. There was no explicit mention of the DeliveryOne infrastructure within the announcement for the deal, which probably means that TIM wouldn’t shell out the license fees for the server infrastructure when it is only agreed to a single ODM handset. [Update: Qualcomm PR contacted me to say that “TIM’s deployment of BREW services does include DeliveryOne. TIM has taken both the client technology and the server technology. DeliveryOne is used to deliver the uiOne ‘Themes’ and the BREW games”]. Note that Onda is an Italian value-added-distributor who also brands ODM handsets.
The TIM announcement brings Qualcomm an inch closer to Europe – although this success pattern seems to be not far off a marked improvement compared to last-year’s announcements, i.e. deals on 1-2 handset models with uiOne, but without with the server-side baggage. It once again confirms the following paradox: uiOne is a brilliant software solution for delivering idle-screen personalisation and customisation (see earlier article on this fascinating topic), while Qualcomm is the product’s biggest advantage (given the cash investment to build uiOne, a.k.a Trigenix-on-steroids), and its biggest drawback, given that operators are wary of being locked-in to the Qualcomm chipset-plus-OS-plus-UI-plus-services vertical stack.
[Update: Ok, so TIM has also ‘taken’ both the client technology and the server technology from Qualcomm, licensing and financial terms remaining undisclosed. This does mark a success for Qualcomm in selling the full uiOne solution in Europe, although much has yet to be proven, i.e. whether TIM will actually go beyond dipping its toe in the water, into deploying BREW devices and uiOne across a greater share of its handset portfolio.
At the same time it should be noted that Qualcomm possesses a strong card, which is an out-of-the-box software platform (BREW + uiOne) customisable to a good extent by mobile operators, and available on tier-2 or tier-3 ODM feature phones that come at competitive price points. This proposition does present an appealing option to European operators who have either not seen enough return-on-investment from their previous handset customisation efforts (e.g. O2, Vodafone?), or who are wondering how to best embark on portfolio-wide handset customisation strategies (e.g. TIM and T-Mobile)]