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Operators said to slow 3G app rollout

Posted: 21 Feb 2002 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:3gsm technical conference? gsm mobile?

The double whammy of slow development and ponderous testing regimens have created delays of more than nine months for some new applications and ground the evolution of the GSM mobile market to a near standstill, according to a panel held Sunday (Feb. 17) at the 3GSM Technical Conference here.

Unable to blitz the market with a lot of new and compelling applications, the roadblocks have made users and operators reluctant to upgrade terminals and infrastructure. "This goes to the heart of the issues of the next-generation [mobile] services," said Tim Simpson, head of consultancy at 3G Lab, a maker of application development tools. "We have to find a way to reconcile between the exhaustive testing presently required by operators and the best efforts made by the Internet world."

Network operators are at odds with application developers and both sides are contributing to the current stagnation, Simpson said. Operators wish to retain control over a user's choice of applications, claiming a need to protect their brand of services; developers are lobbying the marketplace, not operators, to choose applications. Suggesting a need for collaboration, Simpson said, "They have to speed up what they're trying to do."

Mobile applications today follow a circuitous path to market. After months of development, they face a battery of validation tests by risk-averse telecommunications operating companies that sometimes take months before they bring an application to market. Such testing can include conformance to the mark-up language, reliability to wireless gateways and how the applications look after they go through WAP transcoding, said Nic Sheard, chief technology officer of Sirenic Inc., a provider of wireless data services. Separately, an application's usability and user acceptance must also be validated, Simpson said.

"It is critical to develop simulation tools that allow people to test out applications and check out how they would work end-to-end, in advance of launch," he said.

Fighting over customers

While there may be many ways to make money in a wireless world, a significant battle is brewing over who gets the revenue and who owns the customer. Operators and application developers must strike an agreement on revenue sharing models, said David Multer, chief executive officer at FusionOne Inc., which provides synchronization and mobility software services for operators. Operators in Europe "need to scale back" from their current business model and accept an "NTT Docomo type of revenue sharing, to stimulate openness in application development," he said. Under NTT Docomo's i-mode model, 91 percent of revenue from applications goes to application developers, said 3G Lab's Simpson. In contrast, the best-case revenue sharing scenario in Europe is a 50/50 arrangement between operators and developers. "Operators must share a bigger percentage of revenues from new applications," Simpson said.

A variety of development platforms available today, including Java, Qualcomm's Brew, Microsoft's embedded visual.Net, XML, Parlay and others, further complicates matters for operators and application developers.

"Over time, I expect the development platform to converge," Sirenic's Sheard said. "But then, that's the future," he added quickly. "For the time being, we get locked into one platform and there is a danger that it won't last long." In addition to the many emerging platforms and standards, Simpson said, "Even within the same J2ME [Java 2 Micro Edition], there are different versions of Java for different handsets and different networks." FusionOne's Multer noted: "This is a typical early market time. There are too many choices and there isn't a single, nice, clean platform." Software developers use one tool to develop an application, then write the same thing over and over again ten different ways for different proprietary platforms, he said.

As the 3G infrastructure emerges, application developers are not underestimating the challenges ahead. Many European developers have turned their focus toward successful applications and services based on currently available short messaging systems (SMS) and WAP. "There is a danger of waiting for higher bandwidth in developing new applications," said Sirenic's Sheard. "Developers need to have the right information on when operators will be actually ready with the new infrastructure."

? Junko Yoshida

EE Times

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