Mobile operators push for handset specs

Several leading European mobile phone operators have begun talks to form an initiative aimed at identifying requirements for open mobile terminal platforms.

Several leading European mobile phone operators have begun talks to form an initiative aimed at identifying requirements for open mobile terminal platforms.

Orange SA, mmO2 PLC, Telefónica Móviles SA, T-Mobile International AG & Co. KG and Vodafone Group PLC 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, Vodafone spokesman Bobby Leach said on Tuesday.

"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 favor any particular operating system, the operators said in a joint statement. Nor is it intended to serve as a mobile operator "purchasing club”.

With its Live! multimedia service launched last year, Vodafone sent a signal to handset suppliers that the U.K. company intends to have more say in the look and feel of new handsets, including the ability to slap its brand on both the hardware and software, 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 with T-Mobile Deutschland GmbH.

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 Electronics. "Samsung made some adjustments in its operating system to support our multimedia service, added a button pointing to this service and let us brand the phone," he said. "This is the sort of cooperation we need if we intend to fulfil our customers' needs successfully."

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