Mobile firms unite to offer apps platform

A GROUP of 24 telecom companies are clubbing together to build a mobile phone application platform in a bid to compete with Apple.

The alliance – which includes O2, Orange and Vodafone – is hoping that its combined customer base of 3bn will allow it to steal market share from Apple’s App Store. Mobile applications or “apps” have been a big earner for Apple, which takes a 30 per cent cut from every application sold. Over 3bn apps have been downloaded since the store launched in July 2008.

Competitors like Palm, Google and Microsoft have all tried to cash in on the market, but this is the first time that network operators have teamed up to launch their own offering.

The consortium is hoping that its huge customer base will attract application developers that would otherwise sell programmes through Apple’s App Store.

Analysts welcomed the move but warned that such a large grouping of rivals could easily go wrong.

“Operators are trying to regain control of apps, but they have a poor track record with this type of industry consortium,” said Ben Wood of CCS Insight. And Mark Newman, chief research officer at Informa Telecoms & Media said: “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.”

AT&T, Bharti Airtel, China Mobile, MTN Group, NTT DoCoMo, Orange, Orascom Telecom, and Telefonica have also signed up to the consortium.

Three of the largest handset manufacturers – Samsung, LG and Sony Ericsson – have also said they will support the alliance.

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.