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Latin America BREW-ing with Wireless

The game of world domination for wireless standards continued this week with news of a new deal brewing in Latin America.

Portugal Telecom and Telefonica Moviles Tuesday said they are launching commercial wireless application services powered by QUALCOMM's Binary Runtime Environment for Wireless (BREW) platform. The joint venture between the three companies is expected to impact more than 16.8 million subscribers in Brazil.

Already, a battle over mobile phone standards is emerging in Central and South America -- one that pits CDMA2000 against GSM .

Together Portugal Telecom and Telefonica Moviles have a long history of firsts in Latin America; first to commercially launch data services with WAP , first to launch a CDMA2000 1X network, first to conduct a trial of BREW wireless data services, and now, first to launch BREW-enabled commercial services.

"Based on the overwhelmingly positive feedback from our initial market trial, we are confident in the growth potential of our BREW-enabled service," said spokesman for the joint venture Luis Avelar. "The services will build stronger competitive advantages of our operations over our TDMA and GSM competitors."

Avelar said the joint venture's BREW services will take advantage of a next-generation CDMA2000 1X network, nearly doubling voice capacity and capable of supporting data transfer speeds up to 144 kbps. Customers will initially be able to select from two BREW-enabled handsets, the Motorola T720 and Audiovox/Toshiba CDM9500 with models from Samsung, LG, Kyocera and others offered at a later date. QUALCOMM said there would also be a wide array of game, entertainment, communications, productivity and business applications available to download. Some of potential applications being discussed for the joint project include WIZ Mail, Photo Album, Ringtones, Wall Paper, Via Rio, Sensual Club and games such as Navy Battle and Arkanoid.

The two wireless platforms have historically been broken down along geographic lines. Europe remains a GSM stronghold, while the United States is firmly rooted in CDMA and TDMA technology. Asia has gotten a blitz of CDMA technology courtesy of QUALCOMM, but has been wavering between that and GSM.

Several more companies such as Ericsson , Nortel and AT&T Wireless have made their presence known in countries like Mexico, Brazil, Argentina and Nicaragua hoping to dominate the region and become the king of mobile telephony - commonly known as 3G.

Already AT&T Wireless, Telecom Personal (Argentina) and Telcel (Mexico) have begun working together to launch GSM networks that will work alongside their TDMA networks.

The adoption rate to launch BREW services around the globe has been a little slower. The joint venture between Portugal Telecom and Telefonica Moviles along with Verizon Wireless and ALLTEL in the United States, KTF in South Korea and KDDI in Japan have all launched commercial BREW-based services. U.S. Cellular has launched a BREW user trial and China Unicom announced its plans to launch BREW-based services in China in the first half of 2003.

In all, San Diego-based QUALCOMM reports 32 BREW- enabled handset models available to consumers. An additional 33 device manufacturers have also indicated their interest in the BREW platform.

"The success of the BREW trial in the Brazilian market demonstrates that BREW-enabled services continue to be a leading catalyst for consumer adoption of wireless applications," said QUALCOMM Wireless & Internet Group president Dr. Paul E. Jacobs. "With BREW as the foundation, the joint venture will give the Brazilian mobile community a powerful and personalized wireless experience that is unrivaled in Latin America."

According to a study by The Strategis Group, wireless Internet services are expected to grow from 1.4 million subscribers in 2000 to more than 47 million in 2007. The study, "Latin America Wireless Internet Markets," analyzes the region's six largest marketsArgentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Mexico, and Venezuela for many of the most common wireless Internet technologies.

Research group also IDC predicts the number of cellular subscribers in Latin America will grow to 143 million by 2004, while the number of mobile data subscribers will jump to more than 71 million users at the same time.