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Open Mobile Alliance

Philippe Lucas, OMA Board Member, Vice Chair of OMA Technical Plenary and head of standards activities at Orange talks to Adam Baddeley about the development of applications standards across the four sectors represented in the OMA: Wireless Operators, Terminal & Network Infrastructure Vendors, Application & Content Providers and IT Companies.

Q:The OMA has stated that it needs to identify the gaps where standards don’t exist in the mobile market. Where are these new areas?
Identifying gaps and holes where standards are needed ensures that the mobile multimedia market can grow and bloom as much as we’d like it to. When we created the OMA we agreed we needed interoperability between different applications using different radio access technologies using appropriate specifications at the technical level. The OMA has integrated the WAP Forum and a number of other organisations. They brought their own technologies that kicked off work in the OMA. We’ve now taken those specifications and enhanced them to ensure consistency and interoperability. We develop applications and although the OMA clearly works with mobile wireless we try to be radio access technology agnostic as much as we can.

Q:Can you give me an example of what you are doing to close a particular ‘gap’?
One gap today is MMS (multimedia messaging) where we are enhancing the interoperability for the already available service in the market. Some aspects have been fixed and we want to avoid proprietary developments as much as possible. We want to add ‘richness’ to the existing MMS service, which is rather a picture message service today. We want to include voice, richer text and ultimately video. We’d also like to have possibility to have small videos attached to the message. This should happen soon, say 2004, in the next version of handsets with limited length of videos because of the limitation of messages size in handsets. The handsets also have limitations but over time these will decrease and so the ‘richness’ of the message will improve. We are also working, but not exclusively, on the Digital Rights Management. Ultimately the idea is to be able to download music or a movie to a device and ensure the customer won’t be able to forward it on. When you buy it you buy it just for your own usage.

Q:And beyond those standards related to MMS?
Increased enhancement on synchronisation and device management. We need more real time management of devices, to ensure that the capabilities of the devices are provided to third parties or even the operators themselves to provide content, specific to the device. GSM handsets and other technologies have an International Mobile Equipment Identity number but this is not enough to give the capabilities of the handsets. Software could be upgraded, but how would you know that the browser has been enhanced to another step? This is why OMA is working on providing device management tools to ensure that third parties understand the devices on a more real time basis.

Q:What about multi-enabler applications?
We are improving the location capabilities provided by roaming and kicking off capabilities in what we’ve called multi-enabler capabilities. We started OMA with ‘silos’ of technologies, each focusing on a specific area. How do we combine two or more enablers to provide an enhanced service, not just a location-based service but a location plus instant messaging for instance? To do this, we need to combine information but this is just a start. Getting these things in place is not trivial but is under progress.

Q:What do you intend to do in OMA in 2004/5 compared to what we have today?
There are activities in the OMA today to determine precisely what the road maps for 2004 will be. It’s a bit basic to list everything in detail but the multi-enabler is a key area in 2004.

Q:What do you see as the lag time between a standard being agreed and the technology reaching the consumer marketplace?
There are several factors to take into account. The first is technology availability, which could be quite rapid. What is done this year should be available this year for the Christmas campaign. I believe that services, like instant messaging, need to reach a critical mass before you have something substantial in terms of usage and revenue i.e. commercial success. We need to accustom the consumer to the service to show its value to them. We know from experience with WAP, it’s lack of success was in part because it was too technical, not customer focused and interoperability standards were not ideal. From the time of the first commercial availability to something that is beginning to be a commercial success takes several months at least, depending on the technology. Within the OMA we try to ensure that the products are quickly available. The OMA is quite in advance in comparison to commercial standard developments; we are at least six months ahead and perhaps up to two years, depending on the technology considered.

Q:How does the organisation identify and prioritise the areas in which work on standards is undertaken?
It’s up to the organisations within the OMA. Every single company in OMA is spending quite a lot of money to participate in this collective effort; it takes quite a lot of resources to develop standards. It’s the responsibility of members to put forward their requirements, to say what they want done, to say how it should be done and to ensure there is linkage with consumer needs. If that doesn’t happen then the OMA won’t be useful. Actually, there is a relationship between marketing and technology people in many companies represented in OMA driving the right developments for the market. It’s their responsibility to ensure that the consumers will use what is standardised. We try to agree on what we need to do on a short-term basis and long-term. We have a list of enablers, on which we all agree we want to standardise. Every OMA company has its own agenda. But we all agree to work together because we need to work collectively, in a competitive market, to define elements that will ease the development of the market. In terms of prioritisation, OMA is a standardisation organisation and doesn’t dictate what will be done. You cannot drive things like in a company, but OMA is consensus driven to ensure most of all companies work in the same direction.

Q:How should we judge the success of OMA?
The best measurement of success for the organisation is to see how the markets have adopted the standards being produced. It’s as simple as that! Actually basic DRM features (phase 1) are already on the market of recent phones, soon a new version of MMS will appear on the market with even better interoperability and features than the existing one.

Q:Do you see differing demand and priorities from companies according to their regional focus and bias?
It is a fair comment; the organisations are coming from global perspectives. If, however, you look at the Internet, is the Internet different for various parts of the world? Some regulations might be different, agreed, some customer needs might be different, agreed, does it prevent the enablers of the Internet being different in different areas? No. This is exactly what the OMA is looking at, enablers operating at the application level. It doesn’t prevent anyone using enablers to slightly accommodate their needs, following of course, the core standards, to provide the flavour according to their market needs. We are not defining the entrance service in detail. A universal Man Machine Interface is not the goal of the OMA but we need to ensure that the protocols between the handsets and the server remain interoperable as much as possible.

Q:Formed in June 2002 last year how has work progressed in integrating the OMA precursor organisations and moving its work toward ‘full capacity’?
It clearly wasn’t done overnight but we’ve already taken several steps. The first was the creation of the OMA. Second, when we created the OMA it was based on a very modified WAP Forum, which other bodies then joined. This was done in four months after the creation of the OMA and was an important achievement. We’ve also changed the organisation in terms of working methods and have elected chairs and the vice chairman in November last year. Since the beginning of this year we are in what I call the ‘Integration phase’. The first six months were very useful for people and language, knowing who we were talking to. People relationships, crucial in any organisation, are improving significantly. You could also argue that the organisation was using silos of competencies within the OMA. We are now also in the process to reorganising the OMA further. We have a solid approach in terms of technical development. We could, however, be more efficient in benefiting synergies of developments between different technologies. Progress is occurring—moving up each month, meeting after meeting. I really have to say that I am impressed with what we’ve done in such a short period of time, considering where we are coming from. It’s not perfect but it’s much better than it was nine months ago when we started the OMA. Yes, it takes time and September this year will be the time when we work on that at ‘full steam’. But, this doesn’t prevent us from working in the meantime.

Q:How does the OMA work with other standardisation bodies to avoid overlap?
The OMA has formal liaison 3GPP, 3GPP2, ETSI, the Mobile Payment Forum and many other organisations. If there is a need for something specific that could have been created elsewhere it needs to be explained why this is the case and then identify what needs to be done with such an organisation. A liaison is then created between the two. That’s part of the normal everyday life of a standardisation organisation. We don’t try and reinvent the wheel and use as much as possible what has been created elsewhere as long as it is required for OMA!

For more information, please contact:
Philippe Lucas: info@mail.openmobilealliance.org

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