Two afternoon panels Tuesday at the 4GWE conference here in Los Angeles made it clear that software developers, and not carriers, will drive innovation when it comes to 4G wireless applications of the future. The big, unanswered question is if, how and when two very different camps -- developers and service providers -- will work together in a fashion profitable for both camps.
There was more than a little animosity on display during the panel talks, and perhaps it was a good idea to keep developers on one panel, and service provders (and their large-equipment vendor partners) on another. Francisco Kattan, who is newly signed on at Alcatel-Lucent as senior director of the company's developer ecosystem, said that while in the past developers "had to beg" to get on any provider's mobile application "deck," with the iPhone and its revolutionary App Store, "the tables have now turned and competition for developers is at an all-time high."
But while device manufacturers (Nokia, RIM) and large service providers (Verizon) are trying to catch up to Apple by establishing developer programs and appliction stores, developers aren't so sure that the old guard are the best leaders for the 4G app development future. "Maybe operators shouldn't be running an apps store," said Shai Berger, CEO of Fonolo, which builds applications that allow users to bypass automated dialing systems. "It's not really in their core competency."
Operators and their providers, however, seemed more willing than ever to work with software developers, including talking about plans to open APIs into network knowledge (billing, presence, location) that developers might use to build even more useful 4G applications. But Kittur Nagesh, Cisco's director for service provider marketing, said that developers have to remember that partnerships can be much more successful than attempts to build products that only work over the top of provider services.
"Operators are not used to thinking that application developers can be part of a new revenue stream," Nagesh said. Developers and providers, he said, "should jointly develop over the top services and share the revenues."
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