Volantis Plants Open Seeds for Mobile App Growth

In the quest to get as much content to the mobile end user as is humanly possible, much of the content delivery to IP-enabled devices and cell phones is being handled by the large telecommunications providers themselves.

So, AT&T customers will see their content from AT&T; T-Mobile customers get their stuff from T-Mobile; and so on. This is not just in the US, as other nation’s providers–such as MTN in South Africa and China Mobile in China–are the primary content deliverers to consumers using their hardware and networks.

It’s not about the telcomm providers being selfish or greedy, necessarily. A big reason why it’s just the big boys playing in this space is because it’s hard for smaller companies to get over the entry threshold to deliver apps to umpteen million customers. It’s expensive and the R&D can be enormous, since the app developer has to figure out how to deliver their app effectively to all of the various devices any given network might have.

This is a big problem even for the network providers themselves, and they even decide which cell phones are smart devices get used. But walk into any cell phone provider’s store and take a look at all of the different devices on the shelves today. Then factor in all of the legacy devices that people bought and are still using.

That’s a lot of devices, and a lot of interfaces.

This is where a company like Volantis Systems steps in to clear up a lot of the mess. Founded in 2000, Volantis’ primary business driver is providing the tools for content providers and developers to write their apps and have them smoothly rendered to whatever device the end-user happens to have.

Their Open Mobility Server (OMS) is part of a toolset that IDs the consumer’s device and browser, matches it against a database of about 5,000 devices (taking note of the form factor and processing power of the device), then rendering the content so it works on Bob’s cell phone just as well as it does on Mary’s PDA.

And the really nifty thing about the Open Mobility Server? It’s now wide open, licensed under the GPL v3.

This is actually not new news… Volantis has had the software binaries available for download since November 2007. But they held off making the big announcement on the source code release until last week’s Open Source Business Conference.

Now, as is sometimes the case, we hear about these big open source announcements, and its usually a precursor to a company looking for more development help on their product. That’s not the case here. The motivation for opening OMS, according to Channel Manager Dave Roberts, is to generate a bigger ecosystem of content/app developers in the mobile space.

Roberts explained that because of those hurdles I mentioned before, it’s hard for “smaller” developers to get into the mobile app delivery space. By opening OMS, a lot of the costs and difficult in producing mobile apps are greatly reduced. By promoting more developers in the overall mobile Web ecosystem, Volantis, which has other Mobile web products, will benefit.

I used “smaller” developers in quotes, because “small” is relative in this case. According to an announcement from the company, some of the content developers Volantis is looking for to come on board are enterprise-level developers who have pushed content to the Internet for years, but have been reluctant to move into the mobile Web because of the expense and time.

It’s an interesting experiment in open source, seeding the market to see if more customers will grow. I’m planning on checking back with Volantis in a few months to see what’s grown in their garden.