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Sun has signed a major deal with China Unicom for the cellco to use Java Technology for the Wireless Industry (JTWI) to create a mobile Java platform - UniJa - for its 90m subscribers.

Although Java is a the leading content delivery platform for mobile phones, Sun has had varying success in exploiting that in terms of building strong relationships with operators. This is partly because, until recently, it lacked some of the advantages of its rival Qualcomm Brew - notably a standard way of aggregating content, billing and provisioning.

But Sun and the Java Community Process have started to include aggregation facilities into J2ME, the mobile version of Java, and to bring it closer to Brew. These developments are important in the UniJa concept and the China deal is an important breakthrough which builds on an agreement Sun signed with the cellco and with Chinese service provider ZRRT last September.

Unicom's UniJa platform will be comparable to the likes of Vodafone Live! It will provide a unified platform to which service providers and content developers can write and which will incorporate features such as security. The three partners will open a Java Technology Lab to develop next-generation UniJa services, identify new opportunities and carry out certification and testing.

The JTWI initiative, kicked off last year within the Java Community Process, aims to address the real problem of fragmentation of J2ME, but may also be a means by which Sun can wrest back full control of the platform's evolution from Nokia and the other mobile phone makers.

The JTWI aims to lay out an overall architecture for J2ME in mobile phones, which is still incompletely standardised and therefore represents another brake on development of smartphone applications.

The specification identifies configurations, profiles and APIs, such as IDP 2.0, that are essential for JTWI compliance. This is vital to reduce fragmentation of mobile phone platforms and increase the level of base functionality. This in turn reduces the need for extensions and the danger of incompatible solutions.

Device-specific API extensions have proliferated on mobile phones because the MIDP profile is targeted at all mobile devices and so omits many phone-specific requirements - address books and particular user interface behaviour included. However, the danger of the JTWI approach is that Sun is trying to create too generic a platform for mobile phones ranging from games-optimised devices like the N-Gage to business-focused PDA hybrids.

© Copyright 2004 Wireless Watch

Wireless Watch is published by Rethink Research, a London-based IT publishing and consulting firm. This weekly newsletter delivers in-depth analysis and market research of mobile and wireless for business. Subscription details are here.

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