BARCELONA--The industry needs an open mobile ecosystem to better meet the needs of new market entrants, according to top executives.
Speaking at Tuesday's keynote address here at Mobile World Congress, Ralph de la Vega, CEO of AT&T's mobility and consumer group, called for mobility players to pay closer attention to open standards.
De la Vega pointed to the state of SMS in the United States before 2002, when users were only allowed to send messages to fellow subscribers on the same carrier.
"It was pretty clear that this way, we would not maximize the ecosystem," he said, noting that revenues grew exponentially after inter-carrier messages were eventually supported.
Reflecting on the mobile industry from a carrier's perspective, he said: "Today, the challenge is to connect users to applications, regardless of app stores and devices. And the ecosystem is getting more complex with more entrants.
"Historically PC makers, Dell [Computer] and Acer, have joined [the market]," he noted.
To date, Dell has not announced a phone offering, though the rumors circulated in 2007 that PC manufacturer could venture into this space.
The number of entrants eyeing the mobility space is creating "islands of innovation" within each device platform, de la Vega noted. "We should use standards-based APIs (application programming interfaces) that allow operators to use worldwide-reaching apps.
"Our ecosystem thrives under interoperability [so] we have to address this issue quickly," he said, adding that agreed standards will provide a safer marketplace for consumers.
He explained that conflicting standards would result in an "out-of-balance ecosystem", with holes for applications to violate security protocols.
Nokia CEO Olli-Pekka Kallasvuo said: "Being open doesn't mean opening the floodgates, but it does mean opening part of your business. It is tried and tested, and has a huge user base--like Symbian." Nokia acquired the open source mobile OS last year.
Open standards will help reshape the mobile ecosystem, with new competitors and players needing to work together "far more than in the past", Kallasvuo said, referring to Nokia's new partnership with Qualcomm as an example of such a union. Announced on Tuesday, Nokia signed an agreement to use Qualcomm's chips in its advanced mobile phones.
The two companies have had a less-than-friendly past relationship, with the two locked in lawsuits over the years.
Kallasvuo said: "We can't do it all alone. Openness will win against vertical closed systems."
Victoria Ho of ZDNet Asia reported from Mobile World Congress 2009 in Barcelona, Spain.