eWEEK Labs on IBM/Sun: Deal Could Be a Boon for Mobile Devices

TECH ANALYSIS: Mobile and wireless communications may not be a driving force behind the reported possible merger between IBM and Sun, but the potential for significant advances is intriguing. Combine IBM Lotus Sametime with Sun's Java, and the possibility of mobile phones becoming unified communications platforms for both businesses and consumers gets closer to reality.

Buried deep within the bowels of IBM's Website is a December 2008 paper from the IBM Institute for Business Value, called "Go mobile, grow ... Should mobile Internet services be the next big growth gamble for mobile device makers?"

The gist of the IBM paper is that as mobile device hardware becomes commoditized and differentiation is based more on bundling and the user interface, mobile device makers need new growth opportunities. Specifically, "Mobile device makers, with their existing broad audience, ability to integrate hardware and software, and their collaborative business arrangements with mobile network providers and Internet service providers, have an opportunity to gain a foothold in what is likely to become a highly competitive market," according to the paper.

With this in mind, when I consider the potential sale of Sun Microsystems to IBM, I have to wonder if maybe the melding of Sun (and Java) with IBM (and Lotus Sametime) could help significantly drive the mobile feature phone industry forward. Specifically, if the sale could move it toward a time when the feature phone morphs into a purpose-built unified communications platform instead.

When I look at the current roster of Java ME and Java FX phones offered by Sun partner Sony Ericsson, I see rich media devices-offering high-quality photos and video capabilities-that also have all the messaging features you expect (with Microsoft Exchange ActiveSync support, even).

Then I look at Sametime and see integrated messaging services, collaboration tools and presence.

What if IBM were to take the two, merge them in a mobile platform that leverages accepted standards such as SIP (Session Initiation Protocol) and IMS, then reach out to service providers to bring it all together on the back end? Perhaps BroadSoft and its rich and flexible UC platform, which is marketed to carriers and service providers, could be an early target for integration.

Suddenly, then, carriers would be able to offer a fairly rich set of integrated communications services to both business and consumer customers alike, and they could make it happen through inexpensive, purpose-built devices, not fattened-up smartphones that are trying to be all things to all people.

Now, buying Sun to get at Java is a bit like buying a cow to get a fresh burger, so I hardly think this would be driving the business decisions behind such an acquisition. But I do like the potential that would come as a collateral result.

eWEEK Labs Senior Technical Analyst Andrew Garcia can be reached at [email protected]