Facing Stiffer Competition, AT&T Opens Up Its Network More To Developers

With stiff competition on the horizon, AT&T launched a new Web site yesterday providing information for third-party developers to create applications for its network. The site, which publishes guidelines on how to create applications for its network, curiously comes just a week before Verizon Wireless (NYSE: VZ) targets developers at an Open Development Device Conference in New York, and a week after Apple (NSDQ: AAPL) released its SDK, allowing developers to create apps for the iPhone. All of the moves are attempts to woo developers, who may create the next killer app that will drive demand for new phones and more network usage.

: Dow Jones : The site gives developers access to documents, which were previously only available to developers and handset makers that regularly worked with AT&T (NYSE: T). Roughly 20,000 application developers have registered to access the code, according to a spokesman, but the company wants a broader developer base. This week, Apple reported that its free SDK had been downloaded 10,000 times within four days of its availability.

The documents on the Web site include a “style guide” that developers must follow before submitting an application for certification. If approved, the app will be available on AT&T’s Media Mall. Applications will also have a chance to be installed directly on certain phones during the manufacturing process. But the interesting part is the billing relationship: AT&T will bill customers directly and share the revenues with developers in an undisclosed split. That sounds a lot like Apple’s arrangement with developers, hosting the app on iTunes and through an embedded store on the iPhone and sharing 70 percent of the revenues with developers, keeping the rest for itself. Customers pay for the applications using a credit card, and in an untraditional move, none of the proceeds goes to AT&T.

As carriers and other companies, like Apple, compete to provide the most open network, it looks like good news to developers. It wasn’t that long ago that Verizon announced it will be an open network, and AT&T quickly countered that it was already open (and yet it is already making it an even more transparent process). It will be interesting to see which program developers gravitate to first and value the most; most will likely try all avenues. AT&T and Verizon have more customers, but iPhone users are known to be heavy data users and eager adopters. “It looks like AT&T is trying to steal a little of Verizon’s thunder and doesn’t want to be left out,” Roger Entner at IAG Research told Dow Jones (NYSE: NWS). “It’s a sign of healthy competition that they all try to preempt each other.”