European operators establish smartphone OS review panel

Worried about the increasing influence wielded by Apple and Google in the smartphone market, Europe's leading mobile operators have set up an expert panel to scrutinise OS developments and unfair practices, according to a report in the Financial Times.

This move follows a meeting last October between the CEOs of Vodafone, Telefónica, Telecom Italia, France Telecom and Deutsche Telekom to discuss their rising concerns over Apple's and Google's intent to create a duopoly, and also build a direct relationship with mobile subscribers. 

While this meeting triggered rumours that these operators would look to apply direct pressure on Apple and Google--or even build their own smartphone OS--the result would seem to be little more than representatives from each operator keeping an eye on the development of Apple's iOS and Google's Android. However, the report said that the panel may make reports to the European Commission.

After the October meeting, the operator chiefs outline their concerns in a letter outlined in a letter sent to Neelie Kroes, the European commissioner responsible for Europe's digital agenda. Apparently, the key message was that 'competition in the mobile OS market, and particularly the smartphone segment, was of the utmost importance to European handset users'. The letter also said the expert panel would closely watch the 'evolutions of the mobile ecosystem and alert on unfair practices or evolutions which may limit the ecosystem openness and the customers' freedom of choice'.

Initial reports from the panel have indicated that no evidence of unfair practices had been identified so far.

While this letter from the operators seems unlikely to prompt the EU into action--given that Nokia's Symbian, RIM's Blackberry and Microsoft Windows Phone 7 offer competitive platforms--the operators do still hold considerable power over which smartphone and OS platforms they actively promote.

However, the operators will need to be wary that their actions in this area are not seen as being anti-competitive, which perhaps explains why the October meeting was said to include a raft of lawyers to ensure this loose operator alliance remained on the right side of fair trade.

For more:
- see this Financial Times article (sub. req.)

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