Amp’d MVNO acquires in-house platform development expertise

Amp’d, the highly publicised US mobile virtual network operator (MVNO), has acquired the platform development division of Ninja, a mobile development company and content publisher which is responsible many of the services Amp’d plans to offer when it launches in 2005. Ninja’s team created the ROPE framework, an OS-independent application platform which manages the deployment and interface of services such as gaming, commerce, blogging and dating.

Ninja Mobile, the content publishing business, will continue as an independent entity and work as an Amp’d partner, supplying applications and services as a third party.

The Ninja development division will be brought in-house and focus on creating a proprietary platform and applications for Amp’d based on a combination of BREW and the ROPE framework.

In a statement, Amp’d said: “Since Amp’d will focus exclusively on 3G content and EV-DO, the company needed to create a new user interface to take full advantage of the wealth of unique music, lifestyle, entertainment, sports and gaming content that will be available…”

The deal follows last week’s acquisition of platform developer Wildseed by AOL. Both agreements represent a growing trend for service providers with a heavy reliance on rich mobile media to acquire expertise from the many application platform developers which are struggling in a fiercly competitive market.

The motivation of companies like AOL and Amp’d is simple. They want to deliver rich experiences on mobile devices – acquiring companies which offer the technology for doing this across a range of handsets is a way on ensuring they can reach the market quickly and their services will remain unique.

However, there is a flip-side to this coin. By focusing on the development of proprietary technologies, companies like Amp’d are potentially alienating a large and innovative mobile developer community. They are also excluding themselves from the economies of scale which will develop as application and interface technologies become standardised.

Yes, the Amp’d offering will certainly be unique, but if it is closed and proprietary Amp’d will be forced to invest heavily in building a large customer base before the service becomes compelling. Dating and blogging services rely on network effects to make them worthwhile. Amp’d may face the same problem encountered by Hutchison 3G in its early days, when the new operator found itself virtually giving away handsets and slashing tariffs to attract sufficient subscribers to make its platform attractive to other consumers.

There is every danger that deals such as these increase fragmentation in the mobile application platforms market. The Open Mobile Terminals Platform (OMTP) initiative was set-up specifically to pre-empt this problem, but it appears service providers are starting to take matters into their own hands.

Long-term, it is in everyone’s interest to encourage the development of standardised platforms which expand the market opportunities for content providers and developers.

Many of these issues will be part of the debate at the MEX Conference on 6/7th September 2005. The Day One panel session, entitled: “Exploring the key technology enablers of the mobile user experience” includes Mats Nilson, Managing Director of the OMTP.

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