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Global Carriers Unite for a Share of the Mobile App Economy

The Wholesale Applications Community (WAC), which consists of 24 of the largest worldwide mobile operators and whose goal is to build a standards-based approach to mobile software development and deployment, said today it expects to have that platform readied in time for next February’s Mobile World Congress (MWC). Using it, developers should be able to write software once and deploy or sell it on multiple devices through multiple carriers — a very different approach from the current app store ecosystem, which is specific to handset platforms.

Among the members of the WAC are handset makers that don’t yet have a handset store to call their own, such as LG, Samsung and Sony Ericsson (s sne) (s eric). Each mixes platforms like those of Android (s goog), Windows Mobile (s msft) and Symbian (s nok) with their own proprietary platforms, combinations that fail to yield “one-stop shopping” on their handsets.

According to WAC’s website, however, using its platform will allow for the following:

“This [initiative] will allow developers to deploy a single application across multiple devices (through the use of standard technologies) and across multiple operators (without the need to negotiate with each of them). WAC will provide the commercial enablers which will allow the developer to be paid for the applications which are then sold through any associated application store.”

I applaud the carriers for trying to remove development and consumer barriers in order to bring more apps to a wider range of handsets, but while that’s the angle the WAC is putting front and center, the real initiative of this effort is clearly an attempt on the part of its members to grab a revenue slice of the multibillion-dollar app store pie. No details on a revenue split between WAC and developers has been announced, and WAC has said that it will be a non-profit operation and will only try to cover operational costs.

Sound familiar? Indeed, Apple stated on its last quarterly conference call that the iTunes App Store takes a similar approach, and that it operates at just above breakeven (the store must be awfully costly to run if its yearly revenue stream is north of $2.4 billion). The potential similarity between Apple’s store — from which it takes a 30 percent cut of all revenue generated — and what the WAC has proposed to date is striking even though Apple is for-profit entity and WAC is not. Even if WAC considers itself a non-profit, its members are all companies looking to make a profit for themselves and their shareholders or other financial backers.

Although WAC has already shared some plan details on a conference call earlier today, I’ll be attending a follow up call this afternoon and will update accordingly.

Related research on GigaOM Pro (sub req’d):

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7 Responses to “Global Carriers Unite for a Share of the Mobile App Economy”

  1. Having worked on this project I can tell you first hand the write once run anywhere idea is a myth… at the end of the day it is not only up to the carrier to come up with a solution but also the OEM to implement that solution to 100% of the spec which rarely happens. Also combining the major difference in BONDI and JIL will not be easy. But it is great to see that they will try to do it which is the right thing to do.

    Developer want simple tools and distribution, not an empty promise.

  2. Write once , run everyone has never worked.(Anyone remember Java, J2ME).

    By the way, I can already deploy across devices and carriers by making a web application.

    I think these people should spend more time making the browser more powerful instead of wasting time on this. Web is the way to go.

    • Fair points and timely too. I just got off a conference call with WAC and although implementation details are still sketchy, it was said that the apps will be built on industry-standard web technologies and use web runtime standards. The apps will have access to operator network APIs in order to create more compelling apps — I’m not seeing the “more compelling” just yet from an end-user standpoint. Still sound like more of an operator play to make money although I can see potential benefits to developers for reasons mentioned above by Charles.

  3. I was going to comment on the main theme of this article til I read something I absolutely did not know — App Store operates at about breakeven! That seems almost impossible. WOnder what they’re including in their costs? Those new data centers? How can it cost them $800 million a year to run that thing!

  4. I think that’s a good start even though it’s about money. At least developers will write once and deploy across multiple devices thus allowing the consumer wider choice and consistency. Ultimately it will allow developers to start their own initiatives to market directly to a wide range of devices. . .much better than being trapped to write for only one device.