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    Mobile operators join forces to attract app developers


    The sheer breadth of the ‘Wholesale Applications Community’ initiative, backed by the GSMA, will stir up the app market

    Mobile operators, apparently heeding the dangers of being sidelined in the app store market by the likes of Apple and some of their traditional handset suppliers, have joined forces in an attempt to woo the app developer community and so call more of the shots in this burgeoning market.

    So far, at least 24 mobile operators – with a combined subscriber reach of over three billion – have signed up the ‘Wholesale Applications Community’ (WAC), which aims, according to the press release, “to unite a fragmented marketplace and create an open industry platform that benefits everybody – from applications developers and network operators to mobile phone users themselves”.

    Through using application widgets based on the JIL and OMTP BONDI requirements (which will evolve into a common standard within the next 12 months, says the GSMA), application developers should be able to get access to far more devices and mobile OS platforms.

    Importantly, they will also get access to the network assets of multiple operators without the need to duplicate resources, as WAC builds upon the work done by OneAPI, an initiative started by the GSMA as far back as January 2008.

    OneAPI began work by picking out the five most likely APIs they thought they could turn into common APIs: messaging, location, charging, user profile (demographic, as well as whether the customer is pre-paid or post-paid) and a data connection profile. It is GSMA’s view that mobile users can have much more interesting and personalised applications if developers have access to network APIs compared with applications written for specific handsets (such as the iPhone).

    The details of how the WAC business model will work have still to be ironed out, but operators should be able to develop new revenue streams by wholesaling out their network APIs to application developers.

    LG Electronics, Samsung and Sony Ericsson also support the operator-led initiative, which are arguably the most desperate of the smartphone suppliers to extend their appeal to application developers.

    The aim of the mobile operators appears, while overtly trying to unite a fragmented market of different mobile OS standards and proprietary network APIs, is surely also to break up the growing pockets of power among handset suppliers and OS suppliers (such as Apple, Nokia and Google) who are developing their own app stores and who threaten to ‘disintermediate’ the operator.

    It is still difficult to work out at this stage, though, how mobile operators will differentiate their own app store offerings with the emergence of this wholesale model.

    Those who have signed up to WAC are: América Móvil, AT&T, Bharti Airtel, China Mobile, China Unicom, Deutsche Telekom, KT, mobilkom austria group, MTN Group, NTT DoCoMo, Orange, Orascom Telecom, Softbank Mobile, Telecom Italia, Telefónica, Telenor Group, TeliaSonera, SingTel, SK Telecom, Sprint, Verizon Wireless, VimpelCom, Vodafone and Wind.