BREW's Evolution: unbundling and expanding

On the eve of the annual BREW 2007 conference in San Diego, Peggy Johnson, executive vice president and president of Qualcomm Internet Services and MediaFLO Technologies, spoke with FierceMarkets Editor-in-Chief Sue Marek about the evolution of the BREW platform and what she believes will be the hot topics at this year’s developer confab. FierceMarkets: How is the unbundling of BREW progressing? Johnson: We broke BREW into three offerings: uiOne, DeliveryOne and QPoint. uiOne has been adopted by Sprint and it’s in their new handsets. It’s also been adopted by O2 and Alltel. Alltel actually got a lot of public kudos for what they did with uiOne, called Celltop. uiOne allowed them to do that. It was the enabling software underneath that allowed them to do that. It’s worked out very well. DeliveryOne is the solution in which we deliver all types of content to the handset. It has also done very well. The third solution is Qpoint, which is our location-based services (LBS) option. We also have certain capabilities that are part of the BREW product line and we turned those into a solution for the operators. We have three already. The first is the BREW Gaming Solution. Telecom Italia Mobile (TIM) deployed it in December 2006 and it gives their subscribers access to 3D games and we bring in games from large publishers such as Gameloft. They also launched uiOne with us as well. FierceMarkets: This is a different model because it’s tied to one type of content? Johnson: Yes, it is. TIM had a WAP service and some of the other things, like email, but they had a hole in the gaming area. This helps fill that hole. We brought in uiOne, which helps integrate it with their other services. The other two services are the Brew Locate Solution, which allows us to bring in just the location-based services to the operator. We now have operators in the U.S. driving LBS services and they have excited the developer community about LBS. We can now package those up and take them all over. Of course, you localize some services, such as maps. But most of it translates very well. The last one is BREW Express signature solution. We used to call this MarketOne. We have a marketplace of applications that can be downloaded to a handset and we can bring in an end-to-end solution. This is what operators are excited about. FierceMarkets: I understand Qualcomm is now hosting BREW for some operators. Johnson: After Alltel acquired Midwest Wireless, Alltel notified the regional operators that were hosted by Midwest that they were transitioning to being hosted by Qualcomm. What is nice is that Midwest is a small operator and it was hosting very small operators and they can still have access to all the BREW applications. When you don’t have big IT departments and lots of staff, this works well. Small operators like this model. FierceMarkets: Has uiOne been instrumental in getting European operators to adopt BREW? Johnson: Yes. We have O2 and Telecom Italia and now H3G is going to be a keynote presenter at BREW 2007. We haven’t announced an agreement with them but we share a like-minded approach to device customization. They have agreed to speak at the BREW conference. We are excited about their interest and attendance. H3G knows about the importance of personalization on a handset. In Europe the paradigm is different, where the handset manufacturers do have control of the user interface. uiOne gives that control back to the operator and they see that as a way to differentiate. They want that differentiation and customization. FierceMarkets: Amp’d Mobile recently filed for bankruptcy: Amp’d is a BREW MVNO. Are you concerned about the MVNO model? Johnson: We will continue to be as supportive as possible. Amp’d feels like they can exit Chapter 11 with a good plan in place. It’s difficult to be an MVNO. It’s a tough road. You have to act like an operator in almost any way, without building out a network. I like their niche because the youth market niche is underserved. They have some great ideas about youth-oriented content and BREW helps them with that. They have great ideas about the delivery of content. So I’m hopeful they can emerge from Chapter 11 and move forward in that market because it’s needed. FierceMarkets: Another MVNO recently announced was Qualcomm’s MVNO on healthcare. They’re going to be a BREW provider as well. What are your thoughts on MVNO from a BREW standpoint? Is it a valid market? Johnson: Yes it is. ESPN Mobile has turned into a cool application on Verizon’s network. End of the day, ESPN still meets their objective through that route – extending their brand. They initially took the route of buying handsets and being an operator. That’s tough for a brand. If ESPN can meet the same objective by putting an app on Verizon’s network, they don’t need to go that route. Healthcare is an underserved market. We have so much good technology in this space in healthcare that has not happened yet. Through our wireless initiative I believe we can bring value to patients that have to monitor heart rate or diabetics that have to monitor their glucose rate. Right now it’s not handled efficiently. How great would it be to have a wireless device take care of that for you? Much like Amp’d is serving the underserved youth market, I think the health market is underserved and wireless can be a big benefit to healthcare providers. FierceMarkets: Many BREW apps have been consumer oriented. Do you see BREW apps for enterprise becoming more popular and a bigger part of the business? Johnson: Ringtones and games have led the way but we are seeing some compelling enterprise and productivity apps. One example is a time card application. You can generate job information from the field. This is a big help for companies that have a widely dispersed field of employees so they can gather employee time and attendance. Another company is Obopay with mobile payment applications. They are getting ready to augment their first application. FierceMarkets: Off-portal was a big topic at last year’s BREW conference. Off-portal is enabled by BREW Zone. How is it progressing? Johnson: It’s still a hot topic. There is a much higher percentage of off-portal in Europe. I believe U.S. operators are watching the success of European operators and will take steps in that direction. It hasn’t happened as quickly as we have liked, but they are taking steps in that direction. Operators have trusted relationships with subscribers and that’s a critical piece. They want to make sure that as they go off-deck they can still take care of their subscribers in the manner that they can take care of them in on-deck transactions. There are some challenges to that but that’s where we have focused our time with the North American operators. We want operators to trust our off-deck capabilities so they can use that. We believe this will be a collaborative approach in this space between Qualcomm, the North American operators and the brand. FierceMarkets: BREW Zone is your off-portal offering. Is any operator using BREW Zone? Johnson: No, not yet. The U.S. operators want to see how they can continue to manage the customer the same way as the on-deck catalog. There have been significant strides in the past year. FierceMarkets: We talked about this last year – is it going to be possible for a BREW operator to tie certain BREW applications to MediaFLO content? Johnson: Obviously any decision to deploy applications will be made by Verizon Wireless. We are looking at how to incorporate those two things. We want it to be complementary to their 3G network so you can offer both things simultaneously. If, for example, you are watching a soccer game on a MediaFLO handset, the operator could initiate a cross promotion, whether it’s to purchase a soccer game or something else. It could run as a ticker across the bottom of the screen. We are looking at interactivity between the two. First, Verizon is focused on the TV service, but next year we are looking at enabling the 3G network with the broadcast network. You want to have it so that it isn’t obvious that there are two separate networks. FierceMarkets: What is the biggest thing to see at the conference? Johnson: I think the biggest thing you will see at the conference is the addition of some content players. You will see them more in force this year. You will see some of the brands. In the early days of BREW, the attendees were primarily handset makers, operators and developers. Now on top of that we are getting the content providers. Whether that’s the entertainment companies or gaming providers, it’s a whole new crowd that shows up. FierceMarkets: How is the conference evolving? Johnson: It’s more about solutions for the operators and hosting for the ones we don’t have. It’s less about the technology—that’s what our early conferences were about. Now it’s about solutions. 48 device makers are building BREW handsets. Lots of developers are writing to the platform. Now we want to make it more seamless.