Telefónica, Telenor go after developers in tandem

There’s little hope for a common set of network application programming interfaces (APIs) that work across all mobile carriers – as the failure of the Wholesale Application Community so aptly demonstrates. But there may be a chance that individual carriers can glom together to form smaller developer ecosystems.

An example emerged this week in a partnership between two of the largest carrier groups in the world: Telefónica(s tef) and Telenor. Telenor is shoehorning its own network APIs into Telefónica’s BlueVia developer program, which presents developers with a potential audience of nearly 400 million customers.

The two operators aren’t creating a new operating system or runtime environment. Instead they’re starting out small, exposing a mobile billing API that works the same way across all of their dozens of individual carrier properties around the world. That means developers can design smartphone, feature phone and even mobile web apps, but they can all tap into a single unified interface for charging in-app purchases to the customer’s bill.

It doesn’t solve the problem of developers building once and deploying all over the world, but 400 million customers is nothing to scoff at. We’ve seen other operator collaborations in Europe though not to this scale. The three largest French carriers have formed a program called YouConnect using Alcatel-Lucent(s alu) technology that allows them to expose a single unified API for subscriber data to m-commerce app developers.

Like the French operators, Telefónica is bringing outside help to cement these disparate APIs together. Last year, it signed a deal with mobile payments provider Boku to handle the back-end integration across its different properties. That probably explains why carrier billing is the first API to have a big impact for BlueVia, with Google(s goog), Facebook(s fb), Microsoft(s msft) and RIM(s rimm) already tapping into it.

Telefónica said it would expose more BlueVia APIs shortly, though it didn’t identify which ones. In addition, Telefónica extended an open invitation to carriers around the world to join it in Telenor in building its common API platform. It’s still far too early to tell, but maybe Telefónica can accomplish what the WAC couldn’t.

Photo courtesy of Flickr user John Picken