Several leading European mobile phone operators have begun talks to form an initiative aimed at identifying requirements for open mobile terminal platforms.
Orange, mmO2, Telefonica, T-Mobile and Vodafone all hope to persuade manufacturers and other parties to agree to a set of common technical specifications that could make the development and launch of new services on handsets easier and more cost-efficient, explained Vodafone spokesman Bobby Leach.
"This is about the industry agreeing on a higher level of commonality in handset terminal platforms," he said. "It's not about a group of mobile phone companies teaming up to build their own operating system and compete against Microsoft or Symbian."
Those remarks come as Vodafone prepares - possibly this week - to launch its first handset based on Microsoft's Windows Smartphone software, according to Carolina Milanesi, an analyst with Gartner. Meanwhile, Vodafone's Leach declined to provide details about which specifications the operators have in mind or their vision of "open" mobile terminal platforms. "The talks are at a very early stage," he said.
The initiative will not favour any particular operating system, the operators said in a joint statement. Nor is it intended to serve as a mobile operator "purchasing club".
Vodafone's Live! multi-media service launched last year showed that the company was preparing to become more hands-on in the phone hardware and software markets, including the ability to slap its brand on them both, according to Milanesi. "Operators today want to 'own' customers rather than let them be owned by handset vendors, which controlled the brand and dictated the services in the past," she said. "Vodafone's Live! is a clear step in this direction."
The move to have more say in the technical features of mobile phones, said Rachel Lashford, an analyst with Canalys.com, "appears to mirror the model in Japan where operators, such as NTT DoCoMo, dictate to vendors what they want to see in handsets."
But Lashford warned that operators shouldn't become too involved in defining specifications or platforms. "This could limit consumer choice," she said, pointing to operators such as Orange, which has successfully differentiated itself by offering customers a wide variety of phones with different operating systems.
Some vendors, especially those from Asia, appear to be bending over backward to meet operator's demands for a greater say in handset design and performance features. "We have made it pretty clear to suppliers that we want to have greater influence in how handsets look and work," said René Bresgen, a spokesman for T-Mobile.
Nokia has lost market share, Bresgen said, because the Finnish company - the world's largest handset manufacturer - hasn't been as willing to meet operators' service and branding demands as others, such as Samsung. "Samsung made some adjustments in its operating system to support our multi-media service, added a button pointing to this service and let us brand the phone," he said. "This is the sort of co-operation we need if we intend to fulfill our customers' needs successfully."