While all the beleaguered mobile equipment makers have been ramping up their services businesses to compensate for the squeeze on hardware, Alcatel-Lucent has adopted a more radical and higher risk approach.
More aggressively even than Ericsson, it aims to be the “carrier's friend” in the web world, offering services to help operators retain a key place in the mobile internet value chain. This week, it will flesh out its strategy further with the launch of its “applications enablement vision”, which will include a set of open APIs (application programming interfaces) to link carriers to the developer community, and help them leverage the in-built advantages of their networks with a “Telco 2.0” approach.
Some operators have already recognized that, with the threat of the dumb pipe looming, they do retain certain competitive advantages over the fully open approach of Google - notably their long established relationship with the consumer, and the customer data and processes (such as billing and presence) that they hold embedded in their networks.
By exposing some of these to developers, they can create a richer mobile internet user experience that will keep customers loyal even after the garden walls have come down. That is the argument of carriers like Vodafone, whose new 360 web strategy rests on these principles; and of industry initiatives like the GSM Association's OpenAPI, to create developer interfaces that span different technologies and networks.
But Alcatel-Lucent, like Ericsson - which announced its own strategy to be an application broker between carriers and programmers earlier this year - believes most operators need help to bridge the web and telecoms worlds.
CEO Ben Verwaayen put such services at the heart of the turnaround strategy he outlined over a year ago, and the company has followed up with various initiatives in areas like mobile advertising. On Thursday it will, according to a spokesperson, “announce new offerings for service providers and developers in support of its Application Enablement vision”, promising a “new business and network mode”.
No doubt this will include services to help operators create and manage new services and app stores, but much of the focus will be on technology neutrality, putting the carrier in the vanguard against fragmentation of the mobile software environment. There is a growing chorus of calls for a more unified mobile apps world, from cellcos ranging from Vodafone to Softbank. According to Light Reading
Sprint Nextel is the first customer for the new services, which will center on combining telco network services with APIs based on the REST (representational state transfer) techniques commonly used in web development.