Euro Telecoms meeting to discuss potential for a new ‘common’ mobile platform. Yep, just what we need!

Posted on September 17, 2010

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French newspaper Le Figaro has reported that Stephane Richard, chief executive officer of France Telecom-Orange, has invited the heads of Deutsche Telekom, Telefonica and Vodafone to discuss the possible creation of a common platform for mobile devices. The talks, which are scheduled to take place 8 October in Paris, are motivated by a view that Apple’s iOS and Google’s Android operating systems have become a “Trojan horse” for these companies to establish their own relationships with mobile customers, reducing the significance of the operators in the value chain.

While operators globally have moved away from a closed ecosystem to support products and services from Apple, Google and other companies from the computing and Internet industries, these new partners have been gradually increasing their influence in the mobile space, at the expense of operators and their traditional ownership of the relationship with subscribers. Due to the early state of the talks, it has not been decided what form the alliance will take, with options mooted including the formation of a joint venture or creation of a common apps development unit. With the four operators having access to a subscriber base of around one billion, they will certainly have the buying power to attract the support of vendors, who will benefit from the ability to serve a large customer base using a common device platform.

The partners have a number of technology options available to them. While they could look to create an entirely new platform, it is perhaps more likely that they will follow the lead of China Mobile, which has developed a custom version of Android tailored to support its products and services. This has the advantage of enabling device vendors to re-use the same core technologies used in their other Android devices to create the operator-specific variants, with the third-party app developer community also able to exploit commonalities across the platforms.

Should they decide Android is not the way forward, a custom implementation of Symbian OS is also a possibility, as all of the operators involved have supported this platform to a varying degree in the past, and this strategy would also have the benefit of bringing Nokia, the world’s biggest handset vendor, on-board. Another alternative would be to work with the operator-backed LiMo Platform technology, although Vodafone’s struggles bringing competitive handsets to the market using this technology are well documented, and may mean it remains out-of-favour.

As an alternative to a fully-fledged operating system, the companies may look to a common operator-focused middleware layer, which could run on top of multiple handset operating systems, based on the technologies being developed and promoted by the Wholesale Applications Community (WAC) – all of the operators involved in the talks are also involved in WAC to varying degrees. This could potentially enable the partners to regain their control of the mobile services market from the new entrants, while also reducing fragmentation for the device manufacturer and app developer communities.

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