World+dog join mobile standards army

Too many, too soon?

The Open Mobile Alliance kicked off yesterday with 200 members drawn from the great, the good and the occasional evil empire.

The OMA is intended to harmonise a barrage of mobile industry standards for 3G, hitherto a barrier to creating a seamless mobile Internet, and it replaces the work earlier bodies such as The Open Mobile Architecture Initiative, the WAP Forum, Wireless Village and the Location Interoperability Forum.

On the agenda are synchronisation, location-based services, and messaging, all to be worked into a end-to-end mobile data platform. This is good for apps developers and it's good for manufacturers - one set of standards mean economies of scale, and reduction of time to market.

Pick a big tech company with an interest in the mobile sector and it's almost certainly a member: Nokia, Motorola, Intel, Microsoft, Vodafone etc.

Microsoft's membership is instructive: it shows how keen it is to participate in the 3G world, even though there is potential conflict over the proprietary operating system it wants handset operators to adopt. Nokia, the driving force behind the creation of the OMA (an independent body), is by contrast, is a recent convert, to 'open' systems for handsets. How will the OMA resolve the competing claims of these two giants? Maybe it doesn't have to - the OMA is a Broad Church, and there's nothing wrong with that, surely?

Well actually, there is according to Michelle de Lussanet, an analyst at Forrester Research. OMA is taking the right approach and this will work well in the long term. But right now, the OMA's broad support will be its own worst enemy - "this many competitors won't agree on anything quickly" - she says.

Here are two problems that Forrester foresees:

  • But wide participation will slow OMA and put global standards out of reach. Let's face it: The more players that get involved, the more time it will take for them to agree on anything at all -- and many will participate only to slow down development and control the market. Further, regional squabbling means that even universal standards won't be implemented
    globally in the same way -- if the equally well-supported 3GPP body can't establish a global air interface, how can OMA drive universally compatible
    sync, IM, and location-sensing?


  • A European "sub-OMA" will emerge. While global politicking slows OMA down, Pan-European operators like Orange and mmO2 will have a vested interest in driving regional agreement. As a result, Forrester expects that a cluster of European operators and vendors will create an informal sub-group within OMA. This way, regional interests will be fast-tracked
    even while global standards drag.
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