Several leading European mobile phone operators have begun talks to form an initiative aimed at identifying requirements for open mobile terminal platforms.
Orange, mmO2, Telefónica Móviles, T-Mobile International and Vodafone 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, said 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 to launch its first handset based on Microsoft's Windows Smartphone software, according to Gartner analyst Carolina Milanesi.
Leach declined to provide details about which specifications the operators have in mind or their vision of "open" mobile terminal platforms.
The initiative will not favour any particular operating system, nor is it intended to serve as a mobile operator "purchasing club".
With its Live! multimedia service launched last year, Vodafone hoped to have more of a say in the look and feel of new handsets, including the ability to put its brand on both the hardware and software, said Milanesi.
"Operators today want to 'own' customers rather than let them be owned by handset suppliers, 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 "appears to mirror the model in Japan where operators, such as NTT DoCoMo, dictate to suppliers what they want to see in handsets", said Rachel Lashford, an analyst with Canalys.com.
But she warned that operators should not become too involved in defining specifications or platforms. "This could limit consumer choice," she added, pointing to operators such as Orange, which has successfully differentiated itself by offering customers a wide variety of phones with different operating systems.
Some suppliers, 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.
Nokia has lost market share because the company - the world's largest handset manufacturer - has not been as willing to meet operators' service and branding demands as others, such as Samsung, he added.
"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. This is the sort of co-operation we need if we intend to fulfill our customers' needs successfully."
John Blau writes for IDG News Service
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