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Nokia Debuts Preminet Service

By Mac McCarthy

In an effort to make it easier to sell, distribute and buy cell-phone applications, Nokia has announced the launch of Preminet, a service to distribute certified Java- and Symbian-based mobile software.

At the heart of Preminet, which Nokia says has been in beta test for more than a year with a number of carriers, is a master catalog of certified applications. Developers can get their applications into the catalog through a process that includes relatively inexpensive certification testing.

Cell phone operators access Preminet in the form of a Nokia-hosted service that, according to Nokia, can easily integrate into their existing delivery mechanisms including authentication and billing systems. Also available is a carrier-brandable, client-side, catalog-shopping application.

Testing The Testing

Developers will be able to submit their applications for certification using existing Nokia labs worldwide, which use Java-verified and Symbian-signed testing methods supported by many mobile operators and handset vendors, as well as Sun Microsystems and Symbian.

According to Lee Epting, vice-president of developer community Forum Nokia, a typical Java application test should cost about $150 and take three to five days. Native Symbian apps cost about $350. There is also a self-sign test program available for operators who will accept them; the test suites are priced at a few hundred dollars each. Certification also verifies screenshots, icons, content guidelines and even documentation.

For the past two years, rival Qualcomm has offered a similar system to certify and deliver BREW-based applications to operators offering its line of cell phones, with apparent success. Nokia's Epting said the Nokia Preminet system, in contrast to the BREW model, is "open" in that it supports third-party catalogs that operators may already have in place, so it can sit next to the carrier's other discovery mechanisms. BREW's rigorous application certification process for developers is also more expensive, at several thousand dollars per application.

Nokia will assist carriers with initial evaluation and API integration. Initial evaluation takes about two weeks; integration and customization takes up to two months, depending on the complexity of the carrier's existing system, and is performed by Nokia integration partners.

Epting said Nokia has in place a "premier" catalog of several hundred certified applications, most of which are from members of its Forum Nokia Pro developers, and others of which are from software aggregators and publishers. Preminet starts with 300 to 500 core content items. Setting of prices and carrier-developer revenue splits takes place in the master catalog. Nokia has some experience with this based on its year-old Tradepoint application marketplace operation.

The optional handset client handles details of shopping and provisioning; it knows the capabilities of the handset compared to the requirements of the application, allows previews and handles installation. Currently the system offers previews and full purchases of applications. Time-based and per-use purchase models, currently offered by the BREW client, may be supported later by the Nokia client depending on demand.

Pundits continue to predict a bright future for the mobile phone-based applications market, especially as sales of more capable cell phones grow. Some 600 carriers worldwide have sold more than 350 million Java-enabled handsets so far.

Mac McCarthy is vice president and editorial director for DevX, a Jupitermedia site.