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Railroads and Java - History Repeats Itself

Railroads and Java - History Repeats Itself

Everyone wants to know when cell phones will become as useful as personal computers, capable of serving as both your credit card and your home's keys. It's coming sooner than later, as we're obliged to tell you, but don't take our word for it - look at how technology standards have affected industries across history.

When Korea Telecom Freetel (KTF), Korea's second largest wireless carrier, joined the ranks of mobile Java licensees this week, it signified the milestone of every major Korean wireless carrier licensing the technology from Sun Microsystems. This is hardly isolated; virtually every major carrier in east Asia and Europe use Java, which represents the two most advanced wireless regions in the world. In all, nearly 100 wireless carriers across the globe, including four of the five largest wireless carriers in the United States, deploy mobile Java generating more than $1.4 billion in revenues last year.

Why does this matter? Because mobile Java is not just a technology - it is the de facto standard for mobile applications across the world. With all of the marketing hype around technology standards, it is easy to forget how they serve as catalysts for dramatic growth and new economic opportunities.

Almost 200 years ago railroad barons worldwide fought viciously with competing railroad track widths, known as "gauges," that ranged in size from roughly 143 to 213 centimeters. Of course, without a standard, the market grew slowly. And while barons could establish monopolies in their regions, they sacrified the economic opportunity to reach broader markets, while also paying heavy costs associated with building and maintaining proprietary systems. The barons came to recognize that a unified infrastructure allowed them to increase revenue by leveraging economies of scale, sharing risks across an ecosystem of third party vendors and reaching new markets. So they standardized on 143 centimeters and the rest, as they say, is history.

In a sense, today's wireless industry is more complicated than railroads ever were. Hundreds of devices proliferate with numerous operating systems, dramatically different device capabilities and specialized carrier technology. It is a true testament to the industry that the systems even work at all.

Instead of rail car manufacturers, the wireless industry has mobile application developers itching to capitalize on the hundreds of millions of cell phones sold each year. For the developers to spend the capital required to deliver innovative applications like mobile wallets, they need a standardized rail gauge - and that rail gauge is mobile Java. With over 350 million Java-enabled phones worldwide, including roughly 100 million sold in the first half of 2004 alone, mobile Java represents a phenomenal opportunity for developers to capitalize on a standard to deliver games, concierge applications and increasingly enterprise applications to diverse audiences worldwide.

With Sun fine-tuning the Java platform through initiatives like JTWI, the Java Verified Program and the recently announced collaboration with Nokia and Vodafone, mobile application developers have the tools they need to create our proverbial mobile wallet. In fact, in Japan, they already have.

What's next? Stay tuned.

More Stories By Alan Brenner

Alan Brenner is Vice President, Consumer and Mobile Systems Group, Sun
Microsystems, Inc. He is responsible for all consumer device and mobile wireless client software development at Sun including J2ME, Java TV, Java Card and Java Embedded Server, and has played a leading role in the inception, standardization and development of J2ME and Java Card.
Alan joined Sun in 1997 from Integrity Arts, a Silicon Valley start up company that developed the core technologies underlying Java Card.

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