Smart Pipes Conference Day One

The Smart Pipes conference had about 80 attendees from across the value chain; not just operators, suppliers and consultants.  In attendance were Steve Glagow, head of Orange Partner; Pieter Knook, head of Vodafone Internet Services, Sune Jakobsson, Telenor Open Services; James Parton, head of O2 Litmus; plus many more operators.  As well as leaders from Nokia Ovi, Google, Bebo, Fox, Opera Software, Microsoft, OpenAPI, OMTP, etc.  The conference was a who’s who of those trying to create new business models in telecom.

Reviewing some of the sessions.

Sean Kane, Head of Mobile of Bebo: The Importance of Business Model Innovation
Bebo Mobile is currently working with 20 operators in mobilizing access to Bebo.  The main problems they have in working with operators are:

  • Long deployment cycle, operators need to be prepared to give up some control, and move to new service launch in weeks not months;
  • Pain of custom and extended contract negotiations, need to move to ‘Fair and Simple,’ contracts with web-based service providers;
  • Constant organization changes and HQ versus country battles, need a persistent single point of contact; and
  • Operator specific and arduous technical hurdles need to be simplified and ‘trust’ Bebo application as its working elsewhere.

Bebo Mobile are not interested in network based APIs, they’re not looking for location, which given they represent a very large user base is a critical issue for OneAPI.  Their view of the world is they provide the platform, and operators customize as required, as they can not form 750+ versions of their mobile app.  What they’d really like is a standard camera photo uploader API/app – perhaps something OneAPI should consider?  A major concern is the proliferation of app stores.  It’s not possible to work with them all, they think there will be a wash-out within the next 12-18 months, which means many developers will wait and see.

Pieter Knook, Internet Services Director, Vodafone Group: Why Open Access?
Set out their recently announced mobile widgets strategy.  Copying O2 Litmus with a 70:30 revenue share, and quoting James Parton of “Get out of the way” between developers and customers.  Initially the widget platform will be based on the Opera browser.  Over time the Joint Innovation Lab (Vodafone, Verizon, China mobile and Softbank) will spec out what is required of BONDI, OneAPI, and other relevant standards.

These first two presentations set out an interesting dichotomy between VF’s and Bebo’s view – they’re both providing platforms – who’s providing the applications?  In the limit, Bebo would likely build a ‘widget’ – little more than a bookmark, c.f. the Facebook app on the iPhone / iPod Touch.

Steve Glagow, Orange Partner

  • Orange have 130m customers – but they want to work more broadly across operators – great approach in building broader industry consensus.
  • 3 foci: Orange API initiative, Open Innovation, and Application Shop.
  • Currently they have 28APIs, and soon will have 36 APIs.  4k active users of APIs.
  • Apps can be accessed via the App Shop, Orange World WAP site (most popular), web site, and an ODP (On Device portal).
  • Why is an application that is Symbian signed / Java verified not adequate?  Its incurring additional costs to make it ‘Orange Compatible.’  Steve indicated they’re looking into ways to build in Orange requirements into Symbian signed / Java verified.
  • Interestingly Orange only aims for 500 rotating applications through their stores.

Graham Trickey, GSMA: OneAPI
Provided a great update on OneAPI, interestingly they’re looking at how to create a common commercial framework – which is by far the bigger problem than technology.

Panel Discussion: Developer Requirements

  • Fragmentation is getting worse, multiple widget engines, multiple app stores, multiple stores within an operator.
  • Network APIs are not that relevant, however a flat rate location API could be.
  • Billing is critical, especially timely payment and fair rev share.  Working through an aggregator is disliked as they take 50% of revenue for no perceived value add.
  • Customer access in any app store / developer community is critical.
  • We have a significant gap between operators and application developers – this must be addressed if telecom is going to compete with the web-based SPs.

Erik de Kroon, Vodafone: Vodafone App Store Plans

  • App Store is just a way of packaging content, they’ve been doing that since the start of Vodafone Live.
  • W3C is the only widget platform that will survive – if universal commitment can be achieved in the industry this would address some of the fragmentation issue.
  • The JIL (Joint Innovation Lab between Vodafone, Verizon, China Mobile and Softbank) developer website launched,
  • Will open JIL to other operators.
  • Defining a privacy framework.
  • Looking beyond widgets (as it is not adequate to run games) – no decision yet on how that will be implemented.
  • VF plan to launch an App Shop soon across the UK, Germany, Italy and Spain.
  • Will have the widget engine pre-integrated on devices.
  • Will allow multiple widget platforms on a phone, e.g. Nokia Ovi and VF Widget platform.
  • JIL could be the centre of gravity the industry needs, critical will be addressing developers needs given the gap exposed in the previous session.

Day One provided a lot to think about, there’s a surprisingly large gap between operator and developer needs/expectations.  As an industry we’re going to struggling to compete with the consumer electronics and OS provider stores, without rapidly closing this gap.