OMTP requirements streamline product development

The Open Mobile Terminal Platforms (OMTP) initiative was launched amid great expectation in June 2004. The organisation was founded by many of the world’s largest network operators and tasked with defining a set of requirements for the applications and interface layer of mobile handsets. Just a few month’s prior to this, PMN had identified ‘Control of the interface and applications layer’ as the ‘critical strategic issue for handset manufacturers and network operators’ in our predictions for 2004.

OMTP now counts Hutchison 3G, KPN, Orange, SK Telecom, Telecom Italia, Telefonica, Telenor, T-Mobile and Vodafone among its operator members. Cingular also recently announced its participation.

At its launch, there was a fear among handset manufacturers and OS developers that the OMTP would mandate use of a particular OS or act as a centralised purchasing cartel to force handset manufacturers to conform to operator requirements. These fears were fueled when the London Financial Times published an article closely linking OMTP with Savaje, the developer of a Java-based OS in which several operators – including Vodafone and Orange – had invested. The industry was left guessing whether operators were seeking to develop their own core OS, which could then be customised according to individual requirements.

The reality has proved somewhat different.

OMTP has focused on three key areas: usability, device management and security. These all form important elements of the user experience, but the organisation has defined its role as making recommendations for capabilities within products rather than trying to specify particular technologies.

For instance, it’s January 2006 document entitled ‘User experience customisation functional requirements: look and feel, menu customisation and application integration’ stipulates several features. For example, requirement CL4-G004 states: “The terminal MUST allow customisation to be applied by different media (such as OTA, Smart Card or Memory Card); the priority AND the scope of customisation MUST be defined by the operator.”

Others, such as CL4-G024, highlight operator’s desire to maintain the quality of their branding on customised devices: “The operator MUST be able to lock any or all elements within an operator theme so that the locked elements MUST be co-present to maintain the integrity of the theme. If the end user personalises any locked element, all other locked elements MUST be changed to default settings.”

Setting aside the question of whether operators should be seeking such close control over the user experience of devices on their network (i.e. as opposed to giving customers the ability to define the ‘look and feel’ themselves), there is nothing in the OMTP’s specifications which dictates the use of a particular platform.

Inevitably there are some software platforms which are better positioned to respond to these requirements than others. Microsoft, for instance, may struggle to meet many of the OMTP’s requirements if it wishes to maintain control over the appearance of its Windows Mobile OS – something executives at the Redmond-based company have long seen as a strategic priority.

However, the OMTP’s function is to communicate operator’s collective requirements to their suppliers. In this way it should make life easier for handset manufacturers and platform providers who have traditionally been faced with lengthy requirement documents from individual carriers.

The structure of the OMTP’s requirements is logical too: customisation, for instance, is broken down into different levels (4A to 4F), each of which adds progressively more advanced capabilities. This could enable suppliers to ‘self-certify’ their products as being compatible with a particular level, so operators will know at a glance that a device rated as 4E, will offer customisation right up to the ability to download content to the device’s idle screen.

It is rare for an industry committee led by competing operators to achieve tangible results, but in this instance the OMTP is fulfilling a valuable role in communicating the basic building blocks of the tools for user experience customisation to a network of suppliers. Given the complexity of this value chain and the diversity of requirements among operators, the result should be a stream-lining of some parts of the handset procurement process and shorter time-to-market.

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