OMA: Toward one Mobile Standard?
By Joachim Bamrud, Fri Jul 18 00:00:00 GMT 2003
The Open Mobile Alliance unites all leading mobile players, but can it succeed in developing widely accepted mobile standards?
With the recent creation of the
Open Mobile Alliance (OMA), the mobile industry hopes it will be easier
to develop common standards across networks and devices. The OMA was
created in June on the basis of the merger between the 5-year-old WAP
Forum and the 8-month-old Open Mobile Architecture Group. Other groups
like SyncML, Wireless Village, MMS Interoperability Group and the
Location Interoperability Forum are slated to merge into the OMA this
fall, according to an OMA spokeswoman.
"The bigger, the
more all-inclusive and the more ubiquitous, the more likely it is that
the industry can achieve some sort of uniform standards," says Adam
Guy, an independent U.S.-based analyst specializing in wireless
"It's an interesting initiative to
overcome the struggle of interests in the mobile area that characterized
especially Europe and North America, where handset manufacturers, telcos
and content providers have mostly followed their own interests,"
adds Dr. Thorsten Wickmann, managing director of Berlecon Research, a
Berlin-based research firm.
Come One, Come
All in all, some 200 small and big players in
the mobile area have joined the OMA. They include equipment vendors like
Nokia, Motorola, Ericsson and Siemens, developers like Microsoft, Sun
and Openwave, operators such as Vodafone and NTT DoCoMo and service
providers ranging from Visa to DHL. Unlike the WAP Forum, Microsoft is
now a leading member of the new alliance from the start - a factor which
may boost the software giant's commitment to the standardization
process, some analysts say.
"In the past, Microsoft has
shunned several industry attempts at wireless unity - we think that
Microsoft joining OMA is an encouraging sign," says Neil Mawston, a
UK-based wireless analyst with Strategy Analytics.
the CEO of the WAP Forum, is the new CEO of the OMA and the forum's
staff of eight and California offices are now OMA staff and
headquarters. The Open Mobile Architecture group had worked more
informally without a full-time staff and office.
Two of the main
goals of the new group are to "deliver responsive and high-quality
open standards and specifications based upon market and customer
requirements" and "create and promote a common industry view
on an architectural framework."
Many content providers have
complained about the problems in developing content across different
devices and networks.
Some analysts warn, however, that the OMA
goals may be too good to be true. "It sounds like the country where
there's whisky in the water and the women are nymphomaniacs,"
says John Strand, president of Strand Consult, a Danish consultancy to
operators worldwide. "It sounds terrific, but how realistic is it
in a capitalist society with significant competition?"
key challenge, he says, will be to ensure that any open standards
don't undermine the industry's research and development
investments. "If open standards means that those who own
intellectual property have to provide their technologies to rivals for
free, the value of the mobile sector's patents will fall
dramatically and there won't be any incentive for companies to
research in future mobile technologies," Strand says.
the opposite - that one company's technologies are forced on
everyone else and that they have to pay royalties to that company -
could also be a problem, he warns.
It is not yet clear when a
common standard can be developed, but Douglas Heintzman of SyncML has
said that OMA likely will come out with an overall wireless architecture
blueprint by the end of the year. "I'm sure that they will be
able to produce something by the end of the year, as there are plenty of
things to build upon (e.g. WAP)," says Wickmann.
a blueprint is one thing. Getting it implemented is another, warns
And some developers question how customer requirements
for specifications will be surveyed. "Customers don't yet
have requirements," says Barbara Ballard, principal user experience
architect at US-based Little Springs Design, Inc. and a former wireless
web developer for U.S. carrier Sprint PCS. "You can't ask them
'what do you need in a mobile standard?' The next-best source
of likely customer requirements are not the marketing teams, but the
Several OMA members have world-class
usability expertise, but bringing that expertise to the table when a
member company has to focus so much effort on getting business and
technical needs met is politically unlikely, she says.
OMA also aims to be the catalyst for the consolidation of standards and
work in conjunction with other existing standards organizations and
groups such as IETF, 3GPP, 3GPP2, W3C and the JCP.
consolidation makes sense since the mobile world already appears to have
too many standardization bodies, some analysts say. "In the mobile
world , we've got a bunch of organizations that aren't
cooperating," says Strand. "The remaining standardization is
managed by the ISO [International Organization for Standardization] in
Geneva, which they've done successfully for almost 60
However, Ballard says consolidated standards can
actually damage the user experience and should not be a
"If you truly care about the user experience,
consolidated standards is a bad thing," she says. "If we
believe that all future devices will look like a PC, a Nokia phone, a
Palm or PocketPC PDA, or a webpad, then we can consolidate. But if you
want your standards to allow for devices targeted exactly at their
purpose, then a variety of standards is
Instead, interoperable standards and standards
that use common components should be the goal, according to
A fourth goal of the OMA is to establish centers of
excellence for best practices and conduct interoperability testing
(IOT), including multi-standard interoperability to ensure seamless user
Some analysts are warning that the mere
fact that there are so many members may actually be an impediment since
it can potentially slow the decision-making process
"I fear that OMA may impede development since it will
take time for so many companies to agree on which standards to
reach," says Strand. "The debates may result in the process
taking longer and perhaps choosing the best compromise rather than the
Mawston says the size can be both a
liability and an asset. "On the one hand, 'too many cooks
spoil the broth'. On the other hand, moves by so many players to
standardize large segments of the mobile phone industry may lower costs
and speed up time to market, providing benefits for both mobile players
and end-users," he says.
Other analysts say the size is
clearly a plus. "There's no point in lamenting about the slow
speed of large standardization bodies, when the major motivation behind
the initiative is to get everybody involved," says
The size of the group won't necessarily slow
things down if the appropriate mechanism is in place for how it is
organized - for example majority votes on certain issues rather than
complete consensus, he says.
"The effectiveness of the
organization depends more on the structure of the organization than the
size," adds Ballard.
Other challenges, analysts say, include the
degree of rivalry between giants like Microsoft and Nokia. "The
wireless industry... must overcome traditional rivalries if it is to
succeed," warns Gartner analyst Ben Wood.
Some of the
competitors of Microsoft and Nokia, in turn, may even view the OMA as a
way to strengthen their position in the marketplace. "If they
follow their historic paths, the infighting may very well give their
rivals greater influence," says Ballard.
Added to that,
comes inconsistency among the big companies, she says.
"Nokia's 7110 phone rendered a table as each cell on its own
line. DoCoMo usually jumps the gun in implementing a standard, to get to
market earlier. Microsoft has not historically been consistent in
implementing standards," Ballard says.
is that a leading OS developer like Palm has yet to join. In addition to
Microsoft, Symbian - another OS rival to Palm - has joined the OMA. Palm
is currently evaluating whether to join or not, according to spokeswoman
"The Palm OS still accounts for almost 60% of
worldwide handheld OSs and OMA would benefit strongly from Palm's
inclusion," says Mawston.
Brown, the new CEO of OMA, has
generally kept a low profile at the WAP Forum compared with his
predecessor, Scott Goldman. He did not answer a list of questions from
TheFeature for this article.
Strand says OMA should aim to have
a higher profile - being the key public face of mobile standardization
rather than that role being split by its prominent members. "They
[OMA] have a lot of good points that they should share," he
But OMA should also learn from one of the key problems
facing the WAP Forum - the over-hyping of WAP by the industry, warns
Ballard. "OMA has the potential to fare better in terms of the
general public, but not because of their technology, protocols, or
members. It's because of their timing. 3G (XHTML Basic) web sites
look a lot closer to the general public's perception of the
internet," she says. "However, if the marketing folks
over-hype the technology, the OMA will eventually have WAP on their
The WAP Forum, by its own admission, over-promised
and under-delivered in its external marketing of WAP, Mawston says.
"We sense, from speaking with several OMA players, that
the WAP Forum /OMA have learnt from their past mistakes," he says.
"We expect OMA to fare better than the WAP Forum but it must be
careful not to bore or intimidate the general public with complex
technology and acronyms."
Joachim Bamrud is an award-winning journalist with 18 years
experience as a writer and editor in the United States, Europe and
Latin America. Bamrud has worked for various print, broadcast and
online media, including Latin Trade, Reuters and UPI.