Wataniya looks to boost data portfolio

Wataniya Telecom’s application development centre opened its doors last month as part of the mobile operator’s bid to address an ongoing shortage of locally relevant services in the Middle East.

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By  Richard Agnew Published  October 31, 2004

|~||~||~|Wataniya Telecom’s application development centre opened its doors last month as part of the mobile operator’s bid to address an ongoing shortage of locally relevant services in the Middle East. Having ploughed US$1.5 million into the ‘Wireless World’ facility, the Kuwaiti provider is now in the process of persuading media firms, government departments, individuals and enterprises to use the centre’s offline environment to create their own services. Down the line, it hopes this will add diversity to its existing portfolio of services and encourage greater spending by users in one of the Middle East’s most saturated mobile markets. Although locally-oriented data services continue to be thin on the ground in the region, Wataniya is optimistic that the centre will speed up their deployment by third parties and increase traffic sent over its network by users accessing value-added services. Between 15 and 20 developers are believed to have applied for membership since the facility’s launch. “We have to change our thinking as a company,” Harri Koponen, the operator’s recently-appointed chief executive officer, tells CommsMEA. “We are trying to enable new services to come quicker to reality. One of the ideas here could be the next killer application, so we have to have a place where they can be tested. Then, their integration and harmonisation will happen a lot faster,” he adds. Beyond providing a physical place where local companies can go to use software development kits (SDKs) and test and certify their services, Wataniya is also attempting to tap into regional and international development activity. The facility, for example, is offering secure remote access for companies based outside Kuwait City, allowing them to plug into the network online to upload development tools. The operator is also allowing access to providers it partnered with in the regional Value Added Service (VAS) Alliance announced earlier this year — Qatar Telecom, Mobilecom in Jordan and Batelco in Bahrain. In addition, Swedish vendor, Ericsson, provided equipment for the facility from its international development programme, ‘Mobility World’, as part of a deal struck earlier this year to provide GPRS and EDGE infrastructure to Wataniya. Through it, members can interact with those at Ericsson’s 30 centres elsewhere in the world, although the supplier hasn’t yet set up any facilities elsewhere in the Middle East. “There are a lot of small technology players in the region that are fumbling about in the dark. It’s important to get them up to the capability where they can deliver services not only to Wataniya but also across the region as a whole,” says Andrei Torriani, chief product development and technology officer, Wataniya. To ease the development and deployment process, Wataniya also insists that it is taking an open approach towards handset and network server platforms, as well as access to its network. At the moment, it is providing platforms for Java 2 Micro Edition (J2ME) and Symbian-based applications, and says that others would be provided if demand arises. The centre also has pre-release mobile devices available from Motorola on which services can be tested, and Wataniya says that further partnerships are in the pipeline with Samsung and Nokia. “I don’t believe in the proprietary way,” says Koponen. “We’re looking for open, standardised solutions where customers aren’t locked in just because we choose a certain platform. We’re going to make money by people using our network and [allowing] all our partners and customers to access each other. Once we become a gatekeeper, it won’t work,” he adds. Nevertheless, Wataniya is looking for some control over the distribution of applications, because of competitive reasons. “We’re obviously not creating the centre for applications that give our competitors advantages — there are certain prohibitions and first rights of refusals,” says Torriani. “But we are looking to support application developers that are looking to provide services on a global basis,” he adds. Nor is the operator promising to move further up the value chain and provide funding for the developers themselves. “The [centre] is quite a big investment,” says Koponen. “We are investing our money, people and time in this. We are also not a venture capitalist — if you think you have the world’s best idea and you’re going to be the next Bill Gates, you need to go to a bank,” he adds.||**||

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