Korea Says Bye-Bye BREW
By Mike Masnick, Thu Jul 22 01:00:00 GMT 2004

Following a politically motivated trade battle over potential regulations in Korea that would have blocked BREW-based phones, it appears that the private sector is getting rid of BREW on its own.

Earlier this year there was something of a diplomatic standoff between South Korea and the US concerning potential regulations in Korea that would have required a single standard for mobile middleware platforms. The standard they wanted, not surprisingly, was the homegrown WIPI. This upset Qualcomm who, correctly, saw it as a threat to its own BREW platform that was already quite common via KTF in CDMA-happy South Korea. The Koreans countered that an open, agreed-upon standard made better sense for the overall market, and Qualcomm could just conform to WIPI if the regulation was a problem.

What happened, of course, is that the battle quickly became political with US diplomats accusing Korea of setting up a trade barrier, and not an open standard. The South Koreans eventually backed down, while realizing the regulations probably didn't matter one way or the other. Required or not, the carriers wanted WIPI.

With that in mind, it's really not particularly surprising to hear that KTF, Korea's second largest mobile operator is now phasing out all BREW phones in favor of WIPI ones. American trade representatives may try to make a big deal out of this, but it appears to be a case of basic competition. While KTF says that consumer demand for WIPI is much stronger than for BREW, an equally compelling reason is that with WIPI, Korean carriers and app developers don't need to send as much money back to Qualcomm for BREW certification. In the case of KTF, it was estimated that it was spending $2 to $3 million on BREW related licensing.

While the money isn't that big for a company like Qualcomm, it is a blow to its overall BREW strategy. The company fought hard to convince a skeptical KTF on the values of BREW in 2001, and have repeatedly promoted KTF as a BREW supporter. BREW still has strong support in Japan via KDDI and the US via Verizon Wireless, but losing a showcase partner never looks good. Many have suggested all along that BREW was only a temporary technology, never designed to last a long time, and events in Korea may be pushing that idea forward a bit faster than Qualcomm would have liked.