20 May 2009

The API Arms Race

News of Vodafone’s promise to mobile application builders to create a dedicated channel to market and a billing system for their services has recently caused a stir in the industry.

This signals the importance of smart pipe enablers to the mobile content industry, an area that the MEF has been a strong advocate of as shown by our Smart Pipe Enablers Initiative, which Vodafone is leading, along with mBlox and the BBC.

One of the benefits to the smart pipe approach is that app developers will be able to charge for their products directly through Vodafone’s billing system. Although opening up these APIs could present regulatory problems, MEF is pleased to see that Vodafone is engaging with the content community to come up with the vital business definitions that are complementary to other industry efforts underway. MEF believes advances like this will be a boost for the content industry, allowing the off-portal community - where nearly half of the industry’s $32 billion value resides - to take Mobile Entertainment to the next level.

Vodafone’s announcement also made reference to a framework which will be put in place to provide customers with transparency and control over how their information is accessed and used. This openness and transparency is welcome, as success is intimately dependent upon the quality – reliability and simplicity – of the user experience. Rather than following the technology route and release API after API in a bid to ‘out arm’ their competitors, MEF is pleased to see that the operator is looking at other innovations to support the content community.

By involving the mobile content industry fully in smart pipe approaches such as this, operators can ensure that they are providing relevant services to address the needs of the content community and in turn encourage the enthusiastic uptake of newly-available enabling services. This first step by Vodafone is to be applauded.

MEF will be publishing the results from its Smart Pipe Enablers Market Survey this summer and this will be followed by the first of several White Papers outlining the agreed Service Definitions for Enablers such as bulk SMS, premium billing, short code rental, age-verification, identity authentication and location look-ups amongst many others to work towards a coherent and co-ordinated approach to enablers that delivers cross-operator alignment, sustainable commercial models and regulation of smart pipe enabling services.

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