Vendors jockey for Mobile Java position
The battle to become the dominant mobile Java provisioning vendor hotted up last week with a slew of reseller and operator tie ups intended to reinforce the leading players' credentials. But the posturing hides the fact that the mobile content infrastructure market is changing, if the CEO of UK-based Elata Ltd is to be believed.
Both Seattle, Washington-based 4thpass Inc and Poole, UK-based Elata announced reseller agreements with LM Ericsson Telefon AB, with the former also tying up similar deals with Siemens AG and another major, but as yet unnamed, telecoms infrastructure vendor for its Mobile Application System (MAS).
Meanwhile, Elata unveiled two confirmed sales for its Senses platform, the first a global deal with Hutchison 3G brokered by its UK arm, the second a deal with UK mobile phone retailer The Carphone Warehouse Group Plc.
4thpass - often perceived as the leading vendor in the market for Java 2 Micro Edition (J2ME) provisioning software due to its previously announced operator tie-ups with Spain's Telefonica Moviles, Korea's LG Telecom and investment from Nextel Communications - was keen to play up the gravity of its newly wrought relationships, claiming they were likely to force out rivals in the near future.
"This is the first stage for [these reseller deals]," said 4thpass spokesperson Kevin Keating. "We expect [them] to quickly turn into OEM agreements. They are currently not exclusive but we don't anticipate [our reseller partners] jumping to add any other Java provisioning vendors, especially if we deliver as promised."
However, Elata CEO Gavin Freed believes 4thpass is overconfident and that it has misjudged what mobile operators now require of mobile infrastructure vendors.
Elata has created Senses to act as a provisioning platform not just for J2ME but also for MMS, ring tones, WAP and content for Symbian OS-based devices. But just as important, says Freed, is achieving transparent integration between the different services, a factor that will encourage operators to look beyond point solutions.
"A line has been drawn in the sand," said Freed. "4thpass is heavily promoting provisioning of J2ME. J2ME is just a first step. But many operators are now focusing on MMS [multimedia message service]. Our approach is to develop a service delivery framework to all devices irrespective of content type."
4thpass, it seems, has been aware of this problem and has tried to rectify it. 4thpass CEO Mazin Ramadan told ComputerWire in confidence several months ago that the company was in negotiations with Redwood City, California-based Openwave Systems Inc regarding a possible sale to the mobile data service infrastructure leader.
But any chance of that happening were laid to rest with Openwave's purchase of Ellipsus Systems Inc at the end of May. 4thpass claims that Openwave's choice of purchase was fiscally oriented rather than an endorsement of Ellipsus' technology, per se.
"We were deep in talks with Openwave and knew they were looking to buy a solution," said 4thpass spokesperson, Kevin Keating. "They pulled in Ellipsus because Ellipsus was having trouble securing more funding and needed a buyer. Openwave had made prior offers for us but could not afford us."
Elata's Freed is skeptical: "We're all [the J2ME provisioning vendors] much the same size. [I believe] Openwave passed on 4thpass because it preferred Ellipsus' technology. Maybe it was price but Openwave is a company of reasonable girth."
Whatever, the entrance of Openwave - undoubtedly the gorilla in the market for mobile data service infrastructure software - into the J2ME arena must be a concern to vendors such as 4thpass and Elata, given the company's existing base of operator licensees and its ever widening portfolio, which now includes MMS and location technology (through its May acquisition of SignalSoft Corp) in addition to its original WAP platform.
Freed claims Elata is set to announce two more European-based mobile groups "in the next two to three months". But time is clearly running out to snare the remainder of the world's major operators. For those that fail, the remaining pickings may be small.