Sun, NTT DoCoMo team on Java, Jini

Sun Microsystems and the cellular phone unit of Nippon Telegraph & Telephone (NTT) are likely to launch Java-based mobile telephony services in Japan by the end of 2000, according to an NTT official. The two companies are studying ways to use Java and related technologies.

Sun Microsystems and the cellular phone unit of Nippon Telegraph & Telephone (NTT) say they will begin studying ways to use Java and related technologies in future cellular phones and services to be offered by the Japanese carrier.

Sun and NTT Mobile Communications Network provided few details on the agreement, but officials said that by year-end they will finish a prototype of a cellular terminal that incorporates Sun's Java technology. The companies will likely launch Java-based services in Japan by the end of 2000, according to Kei-ichi Enoki, director, Gateway Business Department at NTT Mobile Communications Network, better known as NTT DoCoMo.

"Obviously, it's quite early in our collaboration but we have some fascinating ideas (for services)," said Mark Tolliver, president of consumer and embedded technologies at Sun. Such ideas include ways for DoCoMo customers to buy music, receive news, play network games and reserve plane tickets over their cellular phones, he said.

The three technologies covered by the agreement are Sun's Java virtual machine, a software code interpreter that runs applications written in the Java programming language; the Java Card, a smart-card system based on Java; and Jini, a set of Java technologies that Sun says helps disparate kinds of electronic devices to communicate over a network.

The partners will use the Sun technologies to expand existing DoCoMo services launched last month called i-mode. The i-mode services allow subscribers to carry out banking transactions, buy concert tickets and make travel arrangements via their cellular phones.

The agreement hooks Sun up with an influential mobile telecoms provider. With roughly 23 million cellular subscribers, NTT DoCoMo is the world's largest cellular phone company and one that hopes to quickly grow its influence outside of Japan. The Tokyo-based company is actively promoting an in-house developed technology called Wideband Code Division Multiple Access, or W-CDMA, as a next-generation global cell phone standard.

W-CDMA, also backed by Ericsson and Nokia, is one contender for the IMT-2000 specification, a project led by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) to map out a global standard for mobile phone technology. The standard would give customers global access to advanced high-speed cellular services. The W-CDMA technology, for instance, can carry video, audio and images to a person's cell phone.

DoCoMo and Sun may "introduce the Java technology to W-CDMA," according to DoCoMo's Enoki.

Investors applauded the deal. In Tokyo trading, DoCoMo's share price hit its record high in interim trading and closed today at 5.29 million yen ($US44,811.5) up 5% for the day.

"If you imagine that just 10%or 20%of DoCoMo's customers subscribe to the (Java) services, it could be a huge market," said Toshiaki Iba, a senior analyst at Tokyo-Mitsubishi Securities Co. Ltd. Still, Iba said that DoCoMo's i-mode services are based on proprietary technology so they will "not prevail beyond Japan nor beyond DoCoMo."

Sun's Tolliver positioned the tie-up as a step toward building a world of computing devices that, unlike today's PCs, do not run on software from Microsoft Corp. nor on chips from Intel . One key way for Sun to participate in what Tolliver called the move "beyond the PC" is to forge partnerships with companies like DoCoMo that offer information services over networks, he said.

"It is the service providers that will really be at the front of the move to... the post-PC era," Tolliver said.

Sun is also aggressively promoting Java technologies to Japanese computer and consumer electronics makers. In December of last year, Matsushita Electric Industrial Co. Ltd. said it will integrate Java into various appliances. Last month, an entourage of Sun officials visited about 20 groups in Japan that are either working with the technologies or considering how to bring them into products, according to people familiar with Sun.

Still, however, few of those Japanese vendors have made their Java plans public.

DoCoMo's Enoki said that Mitsubishi Electric has agreed to build DoCoMo Java-based cell phones. The company is also talking with Fujitsu Ltd., NEC Corp. and Matsushita concerning the manufacture of the phones, he said.

Separately, DoCoMo said it will work with Symbian to jointly research and develop products based on Symbian's EPOC operating system. Symbian is a U.K.-based joint venture of cellular phone and handheld devices makers including Ericsson, Psion PLC and Nokia. In addition, DoCoMo tomorrow will announce a tie-up with Microsoft, according to Enoki.

DoCoMo, based in Tokyo, can be reached at +81-5563-7045. Sun, in Mountain View, California, can be reached at +1-650-960-1300 and on the Web at http://www.sun.com/.

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