Carriers Unite in Launch Long-Shot Apps Bid

Everybody's got an apps store, including many carriers. But the carriers increasingly see themselves becoming marginal players, ISPs providing the data connection while software and hardware providers take their place at the center of the mobile universe. Today at GSM a consortium of global operators announced an initiative aimed at creating an open apps ecosystem to bolster and improve their "relevance" to end users.

Called the Wholesale Applications Community, it consists of the following carriers to start:

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

A selection of these companies are also part of the Google-led Android Open Handset Alliance

The stated objective of the group is the following:

The alliance's stated goal is to create a wholesale applications ecosystem that – from day one – will establish a simple route to market for developers to deliver the latest innovative applications and services to the widest possible base of customers around the world. In the immediate future the alliance will seek to unite members' developer communities and create a single, harmonised point of entry to make it easy for developers to join.

This makes sense and may work for feature phones and in-between devices that are not feature phones but not quite smartphones. However it's unlikely to have much impact on smartphone users/owners. With moves like allowing VoIP over 3G (see Verizon and Skype's anticipated announcement), carriers are becoming less and less central to the user experience. (Indeed, they will likely see the erosion of voice revenues in the near-term.) They provide the pipe and not much else. 

Vodafone has perhaps been the most aggressive of the carriers in offering cross-platform social tools in Vodafone 360 and a range of developer APIs. The company is also getting more involved with mobile advertising. Location and demographic targeting data can be offered to third party networks with a revenue share to the carrier. 

Apple changed the mobile landscape and smartphones forever by making the device and platform more important than the data/voice provider. Carriers are reacting and struggling to play catch-up with moves like this, as ambitious as it sounds.

Notwithstanding this impressive lineup, it's very unlikely that the operators will have much success with consumer services/software for smartphone owners. However I believe there's still a massive feature-phone opportunity that's largely being neglected -- and that's where their efforts should be concentrated. That's where this consortium and its developer community can really play and potentially succeed. 

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Related: Google reportedly believes the effort won't succeed.

And speaking of carriers and advertising . . . Orange is rolling out ambitious MMS/SMS marketing throughout its European and some Middle Eastern markets: 

Building on its UK success, Orange is sharing innovation across its footprint, starting in Spain this month with new interactive ad-supported service, Mio. Orange is taking a different approach with Mio, offering all mobile customers in Spain the chance to opt-in, reaching beyond youth audiences. Mio customers will receive gifts, content and the opportunity to win monthly and annual prizes. Interactive SMS and MMS advertising campaigns will roll-out to other Orange markets in 2010. Other mobile advertising trials are also taking place in Egypt and Jordan in the first half of this year, allowing for expansion into emerging markets, as well as mature markets.

The operator has partnered with Blyk in the UK and Velti in Spain, as part of the program.