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International carriers to take on Apple App Store

Two dozen mobile operators around the world are planning to create a "wholesale applications platform" that can be used to launch mobile app stores.

BARCELONA, Spain--Some of the world's largest wireless operators are uniting to create "an open international applications platform" in an effort to tap demand for mobile applications.

At the Mobile World Congress 2010 trade show and conference here on Monday, two dozen mobile phone carriers, including Verizon Wireless, AT&T, NTT DoCoMo, Deutsche Telekom, China Mobile, and Vodafone announced plans to launch the "Wholesale Applications Community" to create a wholesale platform for launching mobile application stores. The platform would provide a single point of entry for application developers.

The effort is meant to reduce fragmentation in application stores. There are already more than 30 application storefronts on the market today. The most popular is the Apple App Store, created for iPhone, iPod Touch, and now the iPad. That store has more than 140,000 applications.

Other handset and mobile operating system companies have launched their own application stores. Nokia has its Ovi store, which the company says gets more than 1 million downloads a day. Research In Motion, which makes BlackBerry devices, also has its own application store. And operating-system competitors Google Android and Microsoft Windows Mobile have stores as well. There are also independent app stores, such as the one run by GetJar, which got a boost last week when Sprint Nextel said it would offer GetJar app store access on some of its phones.

While some of these stores have gained traction, none have attained the success of Apple's App Store.

In addition to the 24 mobile operators joining the wholesale app store effort, the GSMA and three phone manufacturers have also signed on: LG, Samsung, and Sony Ericsson. In total, the group reaches 3 billion subscribers worldwide.

The problem with this massive effort will be that the app store will work across so many different carriers and devices. The beauty of Apple's App Store is that the applications are essentially developed for a limited number of devices and the software on those devices is consistent and controlled by Apple.

One thing this effort can help do is make it easier for developers to monetize their applications. Integrating payment into carrier billing systems is very important to allowing developers to charge money for their applications. Again, the Apple App Store has been successful because it works with an existing popular e-commerce site, iTunes.