Industry leaders form Open Mobile Alliance

A who’s who of mobile network companies, wireless handset makers, and IT companies on Wednesday announced the formation of the Open Mobile Alliance.

The industry body will drive the adoption of standards for mobile telecommunication services and guarantee interoperability between mobile products and services, according to Jon Prial, vice president of business development at IBM Corp., an alliance partner based in Armonk, N.Y.

“The intent is to grow the market so all of the members can compete within that,” Prial said.

The Open Mobile Alliance brings together more than 200 companies and consolidates the activities of several industry bodies, such as the WAP Forum and the Wireless Village initiative, according to Prial.

Mobile industry experts such as Tim Scannell, a research director with Shoreline Research in Quincy, Mass., said the arrival of the Open Mobile Alliance is more than timely.

“There is a strong effort in the industry right now to come up with some sort of standardization — especially in wireless, for carrier-grade reliability — because a lot of these wireless systems out there are not so reliable when they start transferring data as well as voice over these systems. So this is an effort to improve the reliability, improve the capabilities in these systems, and inject some degree of standardization out there,” Scannell said.

Among the issues that will be tackled by the Open Mobile Alliance are the development of standards such as XHTML (Extensible Hypertext Markup Language), MMS (Multimedia Message Service) interoperability, and standards for location-based services, Prial said. Future initiatives will focus on developing digital rights management and device management standards, he said.

Full interoperability between wireless products and networks should foster a diverse eco-system that benefits both users and vendors alike, Prial said.

“Network operators can invest with confidence that the mobile service are based on an open, interoperable set of standards with less risk of solutions being limited by proprietary alternatives. They’ll also be able to greatly expand their choices of technology providers,” Prial said. “The benefits of the Open Mobile Alliance for both the consumers and the business users will be an extensive amount of mobile services that are interoperable across regions, devices and operator networks.”

Members of the new group are drawn from across the technology industry and include Motorola Inc., Nokia Corp., L.M. Ericsson Telephone Co., Siemens AG, Sun Microsystems Inc., OpenWave Systems Inc., Microsoft Corp., Oracle Corp., Hewlett-Packard Co., BEA Systems Inc., Vodafone Group PLC, NTT DoCoMo Inc., KDDI Corp., and MasterCard International Inc., Prial said.

Getting such a wide range of companies — many of which are competitors — to work together toward mobile platform interoperability may not be as difficult as it first may seem, Scannell said. Vendors may conform to mobile interoperability standards, but they will still battle to differentiate themselves in the market with unique features and applications.

“The challenge is for vendors to differentiate their products. The Open Mobile Alliance is more or less a framework to build upon,” Scannell said. “It’s similar to the same effort that happened for the Internet, or the same effort that happened with the design of PCs, there is a certain level of standardization, and then you go beyond that to differentiate your product and that’s where you’ll capture market share.”

Representatives for the Open Mobile Alliance gave no specific timeline for the arrival of mobile interoperability standards, and Scannell advised against holding one’s breath on immediate results.

“In terms of wireless, it’s akin to the wild, wild west. There is a lot of settling down to do before we get to a point where everything is standardized, so it’s still pretty much an open field. But this is a good step in the right direction,” Scannell said.

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