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Operators Accept Support Act Role

Mobile operators have, at last, come to accept they'll be taking a supporting role on the mobile apps stage rather than playing the lead.

Vodafone Group plc (NYSE: VOD)'s announcement on Monday that it will have a branded channel in Google (Nasdaq: GOOG)'s Android Market is a good example of this market reality. Vodafone is using Google's app store as an outlet for its own content and services. (See Vodafone Sets Up Stall in Android Market .)

While the operators' true position in the mobile apps market has been apparent for some time, it's notable that operators now openly and consistently admit that their mission is not to compete with Apple Inc. (Nasdaq: AAPL) or Google's app stores, or even with developers.

Rather, they say their role is: to make sure their networks are robust enough for the reliable delivery of mobile apps; to help their customers find the apps they want; and to open more of their network APIs to developers so that new services can be created. And, of course, their involvement also includes participation in industry initiatives such as the Wholesale Applications Community (WAC) to help make apps more widely available across different platform.

As evidence of this trend, here are some of the comments made by operators during panel discussions at the recent Open Mobile Summit in London:

  • "Our role is first as a platform for both customers and developers … focused around the network and other key enablers. [Then it's] distribution and discovery -- how do we get users to find apps?" – Charlotte Spencer, director of products at 3.
  • "We are Orange. What is our value? What is our role? It's distribution and discoverability, rather than developing our own apps … [Also], if network coverage is not there, you simply can't run your app." – Daniel Gurrola, VP consumer strategy, Orange (NYSE: FTE) (Orange).
  • "We have an app store … but the store is not the story -- [the story] is the customer experience." – Tanya Field, director of mobile data at Telefónica UK Ltd. (O2).
  • "We do not believe we can provide all the apps." - Olaf Swantee, executive VP for Europe at France Telecom.
  • "Is it our core competence to build an app store? We feel it is not. Rather, [it's] providing certain network functionality … [for example] ubiquity, security and more [quality of service]-type elements." – Rainer Deutschmann, senior VP of mobile products at Deutsche Telekom AG (NYSE: DT).

The consistency of these operators' comments is striking. Perhaps that's just the nature of panel discussions at industry conferences, but I think there's more to it than that. It appears that operators have figured out their place in a mobile apps world.

Or, at least, they've got their stories straight.

— Michelle Donegan, European Editor, Light Reading Mobile

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