Euro Carriers Unite, Justice League or Legion of Doom?
By Eric Lin, Tue Apr 20 23:00:00 GMT 2004

Vodafone, Orange, Telefonica Moviles, TIM and T-Mobile have banded together to form a new alliance. Instead of roaming agreements or pricing policies, this alliance is united under the flag of standards and software.

The new alliance is supposed to devise a set of standards, both in terms of functionality and protocols that all phones on the participating networks must meet. The Financial Times as well as other sources reports are that mobile OS wannabe SavaJe, which is partially owned by Vodafone and Orange, will have a part in defining the standards.

Why do operators need yet another standards alliance when that's why we already have the Open Mobile Alliance and 3G Partnership Project? Because even though the operators participate in those forums, the Reg points out they are dominated by manufacturers, and the carriers seek more control. Using SavaJe as a wedge, operators want to see if they can enter the market with their own OS and requirements as opposed to those defined by Symbian, Microsoft and manufacturing powerhouses.

Of course, this is for the good of the customer, at least according to the operators. Unifying requirements should encourage user friendly interfaces and also help get handsets on to store shelves in less time. However it's difficult to believe the carriers' motives are so altruistic. Although it sounds like the plot from Underworld, there has been a secret war going on in the mobile community. Everyone wants to own the customer. In the US, the carrier owns the customer. Most users don't know too much about their phone, they know their carrier's brand. In Europe, the manufacturer rules. The battle wages between not just between manufacturers and carriers, but also mobile OSes and content providers as well. Everyone wants to own the customer, until it comes to support and customer service, of course.

This new alliance sounds like a way for the European powerhouses to bully the manufacturers into giving them branding and feature control, like many US carriers have or like DoCoMo exerts over their manufacturing partners. Of course other factors like number portability and mandatory unlocked handsets will continue to loosen the carriers' grasp over their customers, branded handsets or not.