Facebook and mobile operators became best friends at the Mobile World Congress today, as the social network giant pledged to help do away with fragmented mobile browser standards and to help operators bill for purchases made through internet applications. The move places Facebook at the heart of the mobile community, with the Internet giant acting as a champion for a mobile internet that works better for mobile operators and their customers, and one that operators can monetise more effectively than they do at present. A key challenge for Facebook will be whether it can succeed where operators have so far largely failed, and work successfully with the many different companies in the mobile industry who often have competing technology and business strategies to achieve its ambitious goals.
Facebook CTO Bret Taylor said in his keynote that the company will use industry body the W3C Mobile Web Platform Core Community Group , comprising over 30 major vendors, developers and operators, to try and make it easier for developers to create applications that work across different mobile browsers. On operator billing, Facebook said that it is working with operators including AT&T, Deutsche Telekom, Orange, Telefónica, T-Mobile USA, Verizon, Vodafone, KDDI, and Softbank, to reduce the number of steps needed to complete a transaction in mobile web apps.
Operators will be hoping that combined these two initiatives will help developers create popular applications that can work across numerous devices that they can bill customers directly for, thereby taking a cut of the price paid for the application or service.
On an important level, Facebook’s announcements today are as much about the balance of power between mobile and Internet companies as they are about how Facebook can help the mobile industry solve the problem of application stores generating lots of traffic, but little in direct incremental revenue. Mobile operators will hope that working with Facebook could help mobile operators create a new eco-system that over time dilutes some of the power held within the industry by the current market-leaders in the application store space: Apple and Google.