Hutchison Plugs Its Java Hole

Hutchison 3G UK Ltd. has announced a deal essential to its service delivery strategy as it gears up for commercial launch, while giving a massive leg-up to a wireless software startup at the same time (see Elata Helps Hutchison on Java).

The deal with elata Ltd. for its J2EE (Java 2 enterprise edition) platform is key to Hutchison's plans for personalized mobile Java services, something it has identified as key in its bid to attract the likes of games players to its network.

For elata, the deal gives it a global presence with a high-profile customer, as the U.K. 3G license-holder is developing the technical specifications for all eight of Hutchison Whampoa Ltd.'s 3G companies (it also has licenses in Austria, Denmark, Italy, Sweden, Australia, Hong Kong, and Thailand).

It has been a good week for elata, as it announced Wednesday an agreement to become a global Ericsson AB (Nasdaq: ERICY) partner, a relationship that gives it greater visibility and penetration in the mobile operator market (see Ericsson Picks Elata).

The elata product, called senses, is a wireless Java delivery and subscriber management platform that, claims the company's CEO Gavin Freed, allows the operator to personalize services and efficiently manage the delivery of those services.

"The system provides what we call 'relevant discovery' tailored to the device and the preference of the individual user," says Freed. "It helps identify what type of content the user wants, delivers the service in a uniform way -- no matter what type of content it is -- and then creates the billing information."

Ovum Ltd. analyst Jessica Figueras, a software specialist who has been researching the mobile middleware market for some months, believes the system will be key for Hutchison and all other 3G hopefuls. "Elata's system provides one of the most important functions, in that it provides the operator with a better overview of service management. Previously the focus has been on enabling technologies, such as WAP gateways. Now it's not enough just to enable -- you need to make the delivery of services easy and manageable."

The guys at Hutchison seem convinced. "We chose elata because its platform best suited our needs," confirms Ed Brewster, head of corporate communications at the mobile carrier. "Java is very important to us in terms of service delivery. This is an important part of the IT platform jigsaw puzzle for us, especially as we are performing the architecture development for all the eight territories."

And how much is this deal worth? In terms of millions of euros, "I wouldn't go over five, but I wouldn't go under two," says Brewster, adding that H3G is still on course to launch commercial 3G services before the end of this calendar year. "But we won't launch until we are ready," he adds. Very wise.

Though not the largest contract financially, this is a plum deal for any vendor looking for a way into the next-generation wireless market. "In our space this is the critical deal," boasts Freed. "And we have a deal in the works with another of the large mobile telecoms groups and fully expect to have signed another two by the end of this year. Everyone's watching Hutchison at the moment, so this helps to push us ahead of the competition."

This view is endorsed by Ovum's Figueras: "This is a great contract to win, and not just because of the prestige factor, but because Hutchison does not have the messy legacy systems that existing operators have. That should make this an easier job in terms of integration -- elata should be able to get the platform up and running relatively quickly and easily, you would think, which will make it a great case study for them. With legacy systems you have to bolt these new functions on the side. Some of those old carrier setups are real spaghetti junctions -- it can get pretty messy."

And Figueras reckons elata has won this deal at just the right time, before some of the bigger vendors, notably Nokia Corp. (NYSE: NOK), move in on its patch. "This is great timing for elata. It's an immature market at the moment, but the competition will be fierce in a few months' time. The closest direct competitor I can think of is Mobilitech. There are other broader competitors, such as Openwave Systems Inc. [Nasdaq: OPWV], but its offering is quite basic at the moment, though I'm sure they will beef it up. Nokia too has big ambitions in this area. It has been doing a lot of development, but it will need to get moving if it doesn't want to get left behind."

— Ray Le Maistre, European Editor, Unstrung
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