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Mobile World: Mobile operators unite on global apps platform

Hundreds of thousands of mobile applications are available for the iPhone: numerous applications are available for BlackBerry handsets. However, many other handset manufacturers have missed the train when it comes to offering their users additional applications. At the Mobile World Congress, it was announced that 24 of the world’s largest mobile carriers will come together and launch an international applications platform. The aim of this initiative is to offer applications to user regardless of the phone or operating system. This will be done by building the applications using open standards.

The world’s largest mobile operators have joined forces to launch an open international applications platform, marking the largest unified move to date by the operator community into the mobile apps space.

The so-called ‚Wholesale Applications Community’ will combine 24 of the world’s largest mobile carriers, including America Movil, AT&T, Bharti Airtel, China Unicom, Deutsche Telekom, KT, mobilkom Austria, MTN Group, NTT Docomo, Orange, Orascom Telecom, Telecom Italia, Telefonica, Telenor, TeliaSonera, SingTel, SK Telecom, Sprint, VimpelCom and WIND. The four operators in the Joint Innovation Lab (JIL) mobile apps initiative ‚ Vodafone, China Mobile, SoftBank and Verizon Wireless ‚ are also included. The group serves a combined 3 billion mobile customers across the globe. Industry association, the GSMA has backed the move.

The alliance aims to create a wholesale platform for mobile apps that provides a single point-of-entry for developers. The move is being seen as the operator community’s challenge to the mobile application stores currently offered by the likes of Apple, which are typically linked to a specific device platform. The iPhone-maker’s hugely-successful ‚App Store’ ‚ launched in 2008 – registered its 3 billionth download last month and has spawned numerous imitators.

However, several handset vendors without a significant apps business ‚ including LG, Samsung and Sony Ericsson ‚ have already pledged their support to the new operator-led initiative. It is hoped that the scheme will provide application services over a far wider choice of devices than available today.

In order to overcome what they term a ‚fragmented’ applications marketplace, the operators plan to use common open standards that will allow developers to create applications across multiple platforms. The alliance plans to initially use both the JIL and OMTP BONDI requirements, evolving these standards into a common standard within the next 12 months.

Operators are also eyeing the revenue-generating potential of getting into the apps business. Although Apple has not disclosed how much profit it makes from App Store, the firm takes a 30 percent slice of revenue from every app it sells via its platform. It is likely that operators will use a similar model: Vodafone, for example, also takes a 30 percent revenue share on its Vodafone 360 apps platform.

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