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Mobile Operators Strike Back on Apps

A group of the world's largest mobile operators today revealed a battle plan to create a new industry standard for developing applications as operators continue their fight to remain relevant in the booming mobile applications market.

Wholesale Applications Community (WAC) -- a.k.a, the WAC Pack -- which launched with 24 operator and mobile device manufacturer members in February, aims to fix the fragmentation in the mobile app market by making it easier for developers to write apps that can be used across different devices, operating systems, and networks. (See MWC 2010: Operators Form WAC Pack for Apps Push, Who Makes What: RESTful Service Delivery Platforms, and TM Forum Supports WAC.)

The operator alliance also wants to set guidelines for a new business model that will ensure consistent revenue sharing across the entire application supply chain, from the developer to the network operator to the app store owner. (See Telcos' App Problem.)

The group has grown to 29 members, and these seven operators are leading the charge for the group:

The problem with the mobile app market today, as the operators see it, is the vertical structure of app marketplaces, such as the app stores attached to devices from Apple Inc. (Nasdaq: AAPL), Google (Nasdaq: GOOG)'s Android, Nokia Corp. (NYSE: NOK), and BlackBerry . (See App Insights: Nokia Ovi Store Professes Relevance.)

To address this fragmentation and simplify the developer's route to market, the WAC alliance plans to develop a standard that is based on such Web technologies as Mobile Widgets. Specifically, the group will create one specification based on the work of three existing industry initiatives -- namely, the Open Mobile Terminal Platform Ltd. (OMTP) 's BONDI requirements; the Joint Innovation Lab (JIL) 's mobile widget development; and the GSM Association (GSMA) 's OneAPI program.

By using Web-based technologies, rather than relying on developers to write native apps for specific devices, the WAC alliance believes it can spur the development of more applications for more users across a wider variety of devices.

"The app [will be] independent of the device and independent of the operator to some extent as well," says Tim Raby, managing director of OMTP and acting CEO of WAC. "[This will] open applications to people who haven't historically used them."

The goal is to create a software development kit (SDK) that will enable developers to reach more than 3 billion users, according to the WAC alliance. The group also wants to make certain network APIs (application programming interfaces) available to developers, such as those for operator billing and customer care systems.

"We all agree that Apple has done a great job with the iPhone, but users want choice," says Reinhard Kreft, Vodafone's head of standardization and industry engagement. "There are some 4.5 billion phones out there… [The proposition] is to enable developers to offer their widget apps on a diversity of devices."

Sharing the app pie
While the WAC alliance will address the technology specifications for developing mobile apps, the group also wants to change the business model for selling them by establishing guidelines for revenue sharing, which will be announced in early July.

Crucially for operators, the WAC Pack notes that the revenue from mobile apps has been separated from the network investment needed to support them. The consortium wants to ensure consistent revenue sharing across the entire supply chain, including the operators.

"There is a trend where the app world is increasingly disjointed from the network world," Raby asserts.

The WAC alliance wants a clear and consistent revenue sharing model, and it will set guidelines for this to avoid situations where developers have to negotiate deals with operators on a case-by-case basis. "Clearly, a lot of that [revenue share] will go back to the developers," says Raby.

WAC stresses that it is a non-profit wholesale organization and will only take a slice of the revenue share to cover its operational costs. The retail channel for the WAC applications will be app stores, which could be owned by operators or device makers.

WAC's timeline
The next big date for WAC is early July, when the group will announce its formal corporate structure, board members, and business models for participating companies. The first information for developers will be published in September; and the first developer event will be in November. The goal of the group is to be fully operational and commercially running in time for the Mobile World Congress event in February 2011.

— Michelle Donegan, European Editor, Light Reading Mobile

Michelle Donegan 12/5/2012 | 4:37:13 PM
re: Mobile Operators Strike Back on Apps

How do these plans appeal to developers? 

sarahthomas1011 12/5/2012 | 4:37:12 PM
re: Mobile Operators Strike Back on Apps

They certainly have scale working in their favor, but I also wonder how long it will take a developer to get through the approval process with the carriers. They aren't exactly known for speed.

Russo0 12/5/2012 | 4:37:11 PM
re: Mobile Operators Strike Back on Apps

This is classic stuff...OPCOs trying to stay relevant by opening up and courting developers.....revenue separate from networks.....revenue is proportional to value add, maybe they can add some value and get some revenue, but I think the train left the station...


 


Classic also becase the didn't try to open up until they hit over the head with a massive stick!   But this is a bit of the innovator's dilema at work here...

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