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T-Mobile USA is to integrate Android application purchases into its billing platform, proving there's still value in the operator-customer relationship.

In his speech at the OpenMobile Summit Cole Brodman, CTO of T-Mobile USA, told the assembled crowd that from November 17th they'll be able to browse a T-Mobile-branded section of the Android Marketplace, and that the cost of applications purchased will be added to their mobile phone bill.

The development may seem minor - Android applications purchased will be billed through T-Mobile rather than Google - but the implications are important as operators struggle to maintain a customer relationship in the face of stronger brands.

Smartphone owners are like contestants on Temptation Island these days. They are surrounded by cooler-looking brands vying for their attention, while the operator with whom they arrived stands in the corner muttering about the strength of the relationship.

Users of iPhones might be locked to AT&T's network but they are Apple customers. Apple has it's own billing relationship with the customer and the carrier is nothing more than that.

Google always claimed Android would be different, allowing network operators to own the whole relationship, and this is what T-Mobile is set to do from the 17th of November. After that date, T-Mobile customers with an Android phone will be able to buy applications and have the price added to their mobile-phone bill.

Nokia's Ovi is supposed to work the same way, though not just yet as operators struggle to get the integration working. We called up T-Mobile UK to see when we might see the Android Marketplace integrated on this side of the pond, but we're still waiting for them to get back to us.

Charging for applications through the phone bill should make buying applications easier, but, more importantly, it will ensure that a T-Mobile customer remains a T-Mobile customer, even if he's playing a Namco game on his HTC handset running Google's OS. ®

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