If developers want to reach a variety of operators' networks, there's going to need to be some platform in the middle.
Tom Nolle, President, CIMI Corp.
Until now, mobile applications development has been very proprietary: Web-based applications are distributed to particular app stores for use with specific handsets.
But true to its networking roots, Alcatel-Lucent wants operators to be able to leverage the network -- not the handset -- as the differentiator in the apps race, with the goal of creating special sets of services that aren't available on the Internet.
"Service providers need to use the whole network as a service because they really don't own service creation anymore," said Laura Merling, vice president of Alcatel-Lucent's Developer Platform. "It's owned by the world at large and developers and the Web. So they need to create a secure community around service development."
Alcatel-Lucent believes network capabilities are the key to creating a secure platform for testing and delivering applications, Merling added, especially since network operators' application programming interfaces (APIs) typically aren't available to developers.
Alcatel-Lucent isn't the first company to try to change the applications-distribution business model. Looking at different ways to help developers reach operators' customers has been the focus of many vendors and organizations since the launch of the iPhone, and the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona has become the place to vie for solutions' mindshare.
The GSMA, a GSM-focused industry group, has announced its Wholesale Applications Initiative, an application development standards group backed by 15 major global Wholesale Application Community Wholesale Application Communitybackewireless operators to try to combat Apple's dominance in mobile applications. Unfortunately, details about exactly how it would work were limited, largely because many of the operators compete directly with one another.
In Barcelona this week, Ericsson announced its own app store for service providers, and Nokia has decided to sell applications directly to end users, which puts it in direct competition with its own carrier customers.
"A lot of people have had the idea to bring operators and developers together, but Alcatel-Lucent is the only vendor that offers this harmonization as a commercial service," said industry consultant Tom Nolle, president of CIMI Corp. "A plan tied to a standards effort is not likely to move at a pace developers are going to be happy with."
Application development platform advocates neutral-party middleman
Alcatel-Lucent announced a new cloud-based developer platform and API aggregation model that it hopes will help developers, service providers and enterprises become part of the network-driven app revenue chain.
The company's newest solutions -- its Virtual Sandbox and API aggregation model -- build on the Application Exposure Suite (AES). The entire effort emphasizes using the telecom network as the service that enables developers to build applications that leverage network-based services.
With Alcatel-Lucent as the neutral party in the middle, of course, the new application development platform will provide tools that allow third-party developers to build, test, manage and even distribute applications across networks, including television, broadband Internet and mobile. The idea is to help millions of app developers to have their APIs more easily adapted for different networks. It enables service providers to securely expose their unique network APIs to more developers than in the past.
Alcatel-Lucent is promoting a change in the traditional up-front fee schedule that can drive developer startups out of the market, Merling said, and is nstead creating a bundled API revenue-sharing plan that works for developers, network operators, and Alcatel-Lucent itself as the neutral party that can securely expose API to developers.
But it remains unclear whether a network-linked application development platform is even feasible -- given operator competition -- or whether application delivery models will continue to be Internet-based.
If an operator-based model takes hold, the application development platform could handle the accounting for revenue and billing, Nolle said. "If developers want to reach a variety of operators' networks, there's going to need to be some platform in the middle," he said. "Then even the GSMA proposal could play into Alcatel-Lucent's concept."