Alcatel-Lucent acquisition builds on application ecosystem strategy

With its ProgrammableWeb acquisition, Alcatel-Lucent builds on its application enablement program designed to make it easier for developers and carriers to work together to create APIs and mash-ups that use the network as the platform and include service providers in the app value chain.

Go to ProgrammableWeb's homepage and you're not going to find a corporate "About Us" section. Old-school types who think physical location is important can't even find out where the company is based (Seattle, in case you're interested). But developers have gone there since 2005 to use the Web as a development platform and gain access to 2,034 application programming interfaces (APIs), 4,898 mash-ups, how-to guides, code, libraries and tools.

We want to shift the mindset that the application platform can and should be the network.

Laura Merling
Global Developer Platform Solutions, Alcatel-Lucent

The quietly big news is that ProgrammableWeb has been acquired by Alcatel-Lucent as the next building block in the vendor's effort to create an application enablement strategy focused on combining secure network capabilities with the speed and creativity of Web developers' APIs to emphasize the network as the platform. Alcatel-Lucent has been rolling out the program as a service layer architecture for carriers and app developers since December 2009. And the rolling will continue.

There's not much chance ProgrammableWeb will splash the news on its homepage -- maybe a small notice about Alcatel-Lucent sponsorship. Nothing flashy for the company that will continue to run independently because it's all about the apps. For Alcatel-Lucent, however, the ProgrammableWeb acquisition is a big deal because it is a place where service providers, enterprises and developers can create applications that take advantage of network capabilities rather than only device-specific APIs like handsets, which lean heavily toward 3G and 4G broadband mobile APIs. ProgrammableWeb's directory already lists hundreds of mobile, video-sharing, mapping, photos, messaging and telephony APIs and mashups.

"We want to shift the mindset that the application platform can and should be the network," said Laura Merling, vice president of Alcatel Lucent's Global Developer Platform Solutions Group. "The functionality could be cross-network or cross device, and we're interested in tying it to the interests of the network."

Service providers seek a place in web-developer programs

Service providers realize there needs to be an ecosystem, and they have come a long way in the last six months, but some get it more than others, Merling said. 

For example, Sprint includes Alcatel-Lucent in its Application Developer's Program where it works on location-based services (including SMS, WAP, handset download, web and Facebook widget) powered by the network rather than the handset."Carriers need to think about applications more broadly because this market is about more than network APIs. Some come to us and say 'We've exposed our network assets, now what?'"

Network operators aren't exactly in the middle of mainstream web-developer culture, according to Tom Nolle, president of CIMI Corp. "Alcatel-Lucent is thinking about the problem of service provider developer programs much more holistically than other vendors that are more narrowly focused. Alcatel-Lucent is trying to build a real service provider developer program with the same seamless benefits that an Apple or Google program has."

Alcatel-Lucent is offering to sit as an aggregator on top of multiple service providers and expose assets collectively to developers and create a kind of virtual environment that offers the same kind of ubiquity (via the network) that a handset would offer, Nolle said. "So anywhere consumers go, they could draw on the same features from an open API from any provider in the program."

Defragging application distribution for developers

It is difficult for developers to distribute their applications because it takes time and money to go to every app store and test and certify their applications. Alcatel-Lucent is trying to address all of the fragmented areas and knock them down one at a time. To accomplish that, Alcatel-Lucent's platform solutions group has announced the following:

  • An API exposure suite;
  • An Open API Service to make applications available to carriers on a global basis;
  • A cloud-based Developer Platform that includes tool sets and API-bundling capabilities;
  • A developer dashboard where developers can track revenue generated by use of their applications;
  • A developer's sandbox to test and work with APIs in a test environment;
  • An application publishing platform where developers can upload applications to a central location and complete some level of testing and certification, then automate publishing in different app stores.

It is important that the same ecosystem needs to be understood, used and leveraged by the carriers," Merling said. Among other advantages, ProgrammableWeb can write to its directory, so a carrier's application updates will automatically feed into ProgrammableWeb's website, so data can be freshly updated.

What service providers have been missing is the ecosystem, according to Merling. "ProgrammableWeb brings API providers together, but it needs to stay independent to maintain its credibility with them."

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