Alcatel-Lucent to Help Developers Onto Operator Networks

Alcatel-Lucent wants to make it easier for developers to use data and features in operator networks, including billing, location and presence information. Today it is too complicated and expensive, and changing that would result in cooler applications, according to the telecom vendor.

Alcatel-Lucent's developer push started in December when it announced AES (Application Exposure Suite), a platform that allows operators to make features in their networks available to developers and content providers in a secure way. The operators can run AES in their own environment or as a cloud service, an option Alcatel-Lucent announced at Mobile World Congress last week.

Alcatel-Lucent is also using the cloud platform for its own service, called OAS (Open API Service). The aim is to aggregate APIs (Application Programming Interfaces) from several operators, and let the developers write one version of an application instead having to work with every operator separately, according to Laura Merling, vice president, global development platform at Alcatel-Lucent.

The next step will be to bundle network-services APIs with money-making APIs -- for example, location information with advertising services or the sale of virtual goods. The goal is to lower up-front costs for developers and share the revenue. The plan is to present more details about the bundles at the SXSW (South by Southwest) conference. It takes place in Austin, Texas, and starts on March 12.

Sprint is so far the only operator that has signed up to use OAS, according to Merling. However, two other U.S. operators are testing the service, and Alcatel-Lucent is also in discussions with a handful of service providers in the Asia-Pacific region, she said.

Alcatel-Lucent is planning to supplement AES and OAS with a warehouse for applications, to which both service providers and developers can turn. The warehouse will help developers distribute their applications to multiple stores. Currently, the developers choose only one or two, because of the costs and time associated with getting applications into many stores, according to Merling. For service providers, Alcatel-Lucent will help fill their application stores with content and also take over the testing and certification of applications, she said.

"What we need to do now is start signing agreements with store fronts. We have a couple in process," said Merling, who isn't talking to only operators, but also phone manufacturers and independent application stores.

However, Alcatel-Lucent isn't the only telecom vendor that wants to be the middleman between application developers and operators. Last week Ericsson launched its eStore, which has similar aspirations. The Swedish telecommunications vendor is, just like Alcatel-Lucent, looking for operators that want to offer applications from the eStore to their subscribers.

The challenge for both Alcatel-Lucent and Ericsson will be to convince developers to work with them instead of the likes of Apple, Nokia or Google, according to Stéphanie Baghdassarian, research director at Gartner. Working with an network equipment vendor isn't the most obvious choice, and who Alcatel-Lucent and Ericsson sign agreements with will be key to getting developers onboard, Baghdassarian said.

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