21 April 2003 Some of the world’s largest mobile phone operators have denied that their newly formed coalition to define common handset standards represents a direct challenge to the major handset manufacturers.
They have also denied claims in the Financial Times that they are actively working with SavaJe Technologies, a US mobile operating system start-up, to develop an alternative to Symbian, Microsoft and Linux in the emerging smartphone operating system market.
The alliance comprises Vodafone, Orange, O2, T-Mobile, Smart of the Philippines, Telefonica Moviles of Spain and Telecom Italia Mobile (TIM). The operators hope that by defining handset specifications more closely to their needs, they can free themselves from dependence on handset developers such as Nokia.
A joint statement said that the operators were “in the early stages of discussions regarding the formation of an industry initiative to identify mobile operator requirements for open mobile terminal platforms… for the benefit of consumers and the industry.”
But the group insisted: “The initiative will not favour any particular operating system and is not intended as a mobile operator purchasing club.”
In March 2003, Vodafone and Orange, together with three venture capital firms, invested $17.5 million in SavaJe. At the time, a Vodafone spokesperson said that this was part of a drive for “open standards and greater choice”.
SavaJe has developed an operating system based on Sun Microsystems’ Java technology, a programming language that is already used for running downloadable applications on mobile devices, particularly games. The company hopes that by using Java it can create a standardised platform to “return control of the user experience to the wireless operators and product designers”.
But although wireless operators ought to benefit from this, several handset developers have much to lose — especially the shareholders of Symbian, the most widely-used smartphone operating system, who include Nokia, Ericsson, SonyEricsson, Matsushita, Siemens and Samsung.
Nokia in particular has a significant influence on hardware standards, often forcing operators to adopt whatever handsets it chooses to produce, although analysts suggest that its influence is starting to wane.