The Wholesale Applications Community (WAC) is taking on wireless ecosystem fragmentation with a plan to create a standards-based, wholesale applications platform that will let apps address every user out there, regardless of device or access technology. It has the support of 24 top operators, but the devil, as they say, is in the details. During a press and analyst call in early May, the group outlined its strategy and roadmap, which includes going live in February 2011.
AT&T Inc. and the other three national U.S. carriers, Vodafone plc, Telefonica, Deutsche Telekom and others, are part of the 24-operator alliance under the GSM Association to build the platform, which was first announced at Mobile World Congress. Three of the world’s largest device manufacturers – LG Electronics, Samsung and Sony Ericsson – also support the initiative. Total addressable market: 3 billion subscribers.
WAC, which is a not-for-profit entity, will establish a central route to market for developers to deliver services to any subscriber. Being a wholesale platform, the idea is that operators can use it to build their own retail stores in a standardized way, while companies with existing app stores can wrap WAC offerings into their models.
During the call, Tim Raby, acting CEO of WAC, laid out a few details as to how it will manage to accomplish the goal. First of all, he notes that WAC plans to use existing industry standards to replicate the experience that developers have when they write for the Web.
“WAC is not a standards body,” he said. “We will take standard Web technology, and bring it into the world of mobile, so that when they write a mobile app, the network and the device being used to view it won’t matter.” WAC is working with the Joint Innovation Lab, W3C, BONDI and the GSMA’s OneAPI initiative. And, the TM Forum is lending its expertise and standards for managing the underlying business process and data for “long tail” content and applications, including digital fulfillment, customer care, revenue and settlements. WAC plans to take all of this and create a common spec for writing apps.
Taking on the iTunes Hegemony
In July, WAC will unveil its final legal structure and will offer a clear definition of the business model for participating companies and the developers. One thing is for certain: It gives operators a way to get a piece of the mobile apps pie.
Thus, the iPhone is likely to be a holdout from WAC, considering the store would take on the iTunes hegemony in a sweeping way. Also notably missing from the consortium are BlackBerry-maker Research in Motion Ltd., and No. 1 handset vendor Nokia, which is leveraging its own Ovi store to push new Symbian and MeeGo open-source platforms. Also hanging in the balance is Google’s Android OS, which relies on its Android Market to supply apps for the phones it powers. Many developers have invested significant resources in writing for Apple and Android particularly. None of them are likely to want to share their apps revenue with operators.
“The problem is that that is where is the industry at the moment: vertically integrated offerings from players like RIM and Nokia that include the device platform, developer platform and a set of apps that only work in that environment,” said Raby. “So we have islands involved.”
He noted that, because WAC apps will be based on Internet standards, any device with a browser can access WAC widgets. An iPhone user, he explained, can make use of a WAC app via the Safari browser. “Our offering will live side-by-side with those stores,” he said, if they choose not to bring WAC into the fold officially.