WAC Begins The Difficult Road To Mobile Apps Unity

The 27-strong alliance that’s aiming to unify the fragmented mobile apps market says its platform will be live on several networks by next February.

The London-based Wholesale Applications Community (WAC) – which was announced 11 weeks ago at Mobile World Congress and comprises 24 carriers plus phone makers LG (SEO: 066570), Samsung and SonyEricsson (NSDQ: ERIC) – staged a conference call Wednesday to detail its plans – but most of the meat on how it will really achieve its goals remains unclear…

Interim CEO Tim Raby said the business models on offer for participating companies will not be finalised until July, after WAC has spoken with them in earnest about their needs. It then aims to publish developer documentation in September and stage a developer event in November.

But WAC’s aims for now are clear – to create a more harmonious, economic way for developers to distribute their apps to app stores, while nevertheless leaving operators and phone-makers free to present the apps as they choose.

Raby likened today’s mobile apps market to the old desktop OS wars: “If you cast your mind back to the 1990s, this is a very familiar problem. This is what we used to have in the PC environment.

“Applications are now written in a web world; there is a ubiquitous application environment – that is called the web. These technology islands are not able to access facilities that come out of the network.”

But many an existing app store operator would dispute that apps can’t connect to the net, and WAC does not appear an out-and-out web-centric proposition. Raby said it aims to unite three technologies – the Joint Innovation Lab developer JV, the OMTP’s BONDI initiative and the GSMA’s own OneAPI.

One aim is to ensure that developers can write and submit and app once that is republished many times to multiple stores – something Raby said can be time-consuming and expensive today. But don’t expect one big industry-wide app store – as Vodafone’s standardisation head Reinhard Kreft also told the conference call: “WAC is a wholesale environment – so there will still be operators that compete. The retail proposition is an area where competition is needed to accelerate innovation.”

In fact, there is also a clear sense that carriers want to use WAC as the opportunity they have been looking for to finally claim some income from an apps boom that has so far left them on the sidelines as the dumb pipe between developer, distributor and user…

“Operators want to participate in this value chain,” Raby said. “They believe they have some assets. Implicit in the WAC proposition – we’re trying to bring together the fact that there has to be investment (in the network).”

“We’re going to look at the various recurring revenue models involved in this and how operator assets can be used in an innovative form.” That may be code for letting consumers more easily to subscribe to repeat app content via their monthly bill. But details on just how WAC will benefit the carriers, aside from just ingesting more apps that they can sell on, appears scheduled only for July.

With so many different international partners involved, WAC will certainly have its work cut out keeping everyone on the same page, but its path will be smoothed if the operators are united, as they seem, in their search for more revenue from their network traffic.

Only time will tell whether WAC will really contribute to shaping the environment, or will become just a benevolent non-starter. “It is ambitious, but we’re not starting from zero,” Raby said.