Alcatel Offers to Streamline Mobile App Creation

Alcatel-Lucent is helping mobile operators bring their network resources to developers so they can build a richer set of applications.

With its Application Exposure Suite (AES), which the network infrastructure vendor is announcing Thursday, Alcatel lets carriers expose useful types of data that they control to application developers. These types of information, such as subscriber location, service preferences and billing relationships, will help developers create "mashups" that combine different types of data and capabilities, said Johnson Agogbua, vice president of Global Application Enablement solutions at Alcatel.

Mobile developers often have to adapt their software to each carrier as well as negotiate separate relationships with all the operators they want to carry the application. Alcatel will provide a common mechanism for making applications call upon more than one carrier's information sources. The idea is that the more carriers use Alcatel's platform, the fewer carriers a developer will have to work with individually to get an application out to the market. At the heart of the offering is a set of APIs (application programming interfaces) that developers can use to bring these types of information into their applications.

Alcatel is offering AES as a turnkey solution for a mobile operator to deploy in its own infrastructure. It is also offering a cloud-based service, called the Open API Service, that provides essentially the same capabilities as AES. The Open API Service saves the carriers the effort of directly supporting developers, according to the company. Along with AES and Open API Service, Alcatel is offering a set of "transformation services" to help carriers get the most out of offering mobile applications. They include consulting services focused on business models, application lifecycle management and other areas, Agogbua said.

AES lets carriers expose certain types of data via a secure "exposure layer." Meanwhile, it gives the service providers tools to monitor application performance, optimize the subscriber's experience and protect user privacy, according to Alcatel.

AES is network-independent, so it can work with current 3G (third-generation) mobile networks as well as 4G WiMax and LTE (Long-Term Evolution), Agogbua said. It can even extend to wired networks. IP (Internet Protocol) is the necessary common thread, he said. Carriers don't have to have Alcatel hardware in their networks to deploy AES, he added.

Sprint Nextel is already using the Open API Service, and about 21 applications have already been developed through the service. Alcatel is working with several other mobile operators on using AES, he said.

Gamma Engineers, which builds and maintains custom mobile applications for enterprises, plans to use the Open API Service to add features to the applications it builds.

For example, the service allows Gamma's applications to tap into location information from mobile operators and use Alcatel's software for geofencing, which triggers events when a user's mobile phone enters a given area. Airlines are testing applications from Gamma that use geofencing to tell them when a passenger is at the airport so an airline representative can meet them, according to Alex George, founder and CEO of the Tampa, Florida, company. Gamma also has other applications in testing in other industries and expects them all to be commercially available next year.

Without the Open API Service, Gamma would have to work with each carrier individually to bring location data into an application, George said.

Many mobile operators want to tap into innovation by outside application developers but find it hard to do so because they are large, complex organizations, said IDC analyst Elisabeth Rainge. They may have only let third parties use their resources on a case-by-case basis.

"The hesitancy comes out of a need for scale and rigor about it," Rainge said. She compared the change to tearing out rigid railroad tracks for a freewheeling mountain-bike path.

Alcatel sells infrastructure to carriers, and here it's offering an infrastructure for bringing in partners, which may help to get the mobile operators going in that direction, she said. "This is about carriers opening up in a systemic way, not in a one-off," Rainge said.

Giving third-party developers access to mobile operators' data could help application creators in enterprises as well as consumer-oriented software companies, Rainge said.

The Open API Service is available immediately worldwide, with APIs for location and geofencing. Other capabilities including service registration, payment and settlement will be rolled out over time, according to Alcatel's Agogbua.

Alcatel is selling the Open API Service to developers on a pay-as-you-go basis, with the developers paying to use API transaction calls, according to Alcatel. The company is evaluating other possible business models for the future that could include revenue sharing.

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