Operators unite to challenge Apple's apps

BARCELONA (Reuters) - Twenty-four telecom operators have formed an alliance to build an open platform that will deliver applications to all mobile phone users in an effort to compete with Apple’s successful apps store.

JK Shin, head of Samsung's Mobile Communications division, speaks during the presentation of the new Samsung "Wave" smartphone during the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona February 14, 2010. REUTERS/Albert Gea

The move is supported by three of the world’s largest device makers -- LG Electronics, Samsung and Sony Ericsson, the telecoms industry body GSM Association said on Monday at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona.

But analysts were skeptical whether so many operators could work together efficiently and noted that it was difficult to compete with the strength of Apple’s brand.

“I do question whether such a large group of mobile operators will be able to achieve the level of cooperation and integration required to make this initiative a success,” said Mark Newman, chief research officer at Informa Telecoms & Media.

“Some of these operators (for example AT&T and Sprint) are fierce competitors and have always tried to find ways of differentiating themselves in order to win market share,” Newmann added.

AT&T, Bharti Airtel, China Mobile, MTN Group, NTT DoCoMo, Orange, Orascom Telecom, Telefonica and Vodafone are among those who have agreed to the initiative, the GSMA said.

“There is one point that is missing: the brand and the marketing power that Apple has,” Frost & Sullivan’s analyst, Saverio Romeo said.

“Every time Steve Jobs decides to launch a new product/device/service, the entire world, the common individual in the street included, passionately discusses it for days,” Romeo added.

Together the operators have access to over three billion customers around the world, the GSMA said, adding the plan would help reduce fragmentation in the industry.

In a first step, “the alliance will seek to unite members’ developer communities and create a single, harmonized point of entry to make it easy for developers to join,” the GSMA said.

John Strand, owner and chief executive of Strand Consulting, said the plan reminded him of OMTP or Open Mobile Terminal Platform that was founded in June 2004 by eight operators and never heard from again.

Frost & Sullivan’s Romeo also said the alliance would have a hard time getting past Steve Jobs.

“Apple has built a nice and very well functioning castle with a direct bridge to consumers over which no one else seems able to walk comfortably so far,” Romeo said.

“If the rest of industry just keeps talking about applications stores trying to walk on the Apple’s bridge, they will always find Steve Jobs at the door of the castle.”

Reporting by Nicola Leske; Editing by David Cowell