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  • Writer's pictureSlashData Team

Managing software as lego bricks: the industry side of mobile software management

What if handset internals could be managed as lego bricks? What if the software within our phones could be shaped into a colourful construction of small, interconnected components that can be taken apart and reshaped in no time ? The impact would be quite profound, allowing software to be managed across its lifecycle, from development, variant creation and manufacturing to distribution, point-of-sales customisation and post-sales personalisation.

Mobile software management (MSM) is an umbrella of emerging technologies which encompasses firmware over-the-air (FOTA), user interface management and enterprise device management, which have traditionally been considered applications of mobile device management (MDM). However, MSM extends beyond MDM by enabling management of software at the individual component level and doing so at any point in time, not only post-sales, but also pre-sales and pre-manufacturing.

In this second part of the series on mobile software management, I take a look at the industry side of this new umbrella of MSM technologies, digging into the software lifecycle, the industry benefits of software management and the multitude of vendors who are claiming a stake of the pie. For the user benefits of mobile software see part one of this series. This article contains extracts from our recent report titled Mobile Software Management: Advances and Opportunities in Service Delivery.

The handset software lifecycle The handset lifecycle consists of three main stages: pre-load (i.e. from concept to in-ROM), post-load (from in-ROM to in-shop), and post-sales (from the time of sale to handset retirement).

Mobile software begins life 18-24 months before the handset leaves the factory. Software requirements are captured as use-cases and are translated into specific technology, hardware and system dependencies. The process of requirements gathering, collation, prioritisation, definition and agreement often takes up to six months.

software lifecycle

Thereafter follows the software development process, comprising configuration management, integration, testing and quality assurance. This phase of software development and integration requires typically another six months.

Adding in handset-specific hardware requirements, generation of variants for different channels, operators and regions, acceptance testing, interoperability testing and resolution of last minute bugs results in another six months before the software is finally embedded into the ROM.

Post flashing to the ROM, there are additional development requirements regarding channel customisation, addition of specific applications and settings. The handset lifecycle post-sales is much more familiar; the user can personalise the handset with ringtones, or games. We can also envisage new handset features being delivered over the air (as in the case of the iPhone).

Why the mobile industry cares about MSM The industry does care for MSM; mobile software management can address a large number of diverse challenges for the various industry players, as we will see next.

Handset manufacturers. Handset manufacturers use software to develop, deliver and manage handset features and services across the handset lifecycle. There are multiple challenges for manufacturers:

– Software reuse: Software delivery across multiple product lines is inherently complex and costly for manufacturers. MSM and specifically modularisation technologies offer easier software re-use across handsets and componentised software development, integration, testing and delivery.

– Variant management: Handset manufacturers have to address the continually increasing number of channels, operator customers and end user segments, each of which requires creation of a unique handset variant. For example, it is believed that Nokia currently manages around 10,000 software releases every month, i.e. discrete versions of applications (SMS, email, browser, Java) for a certain handset model, for a certain region and channel. MSM technologies enable not only pre-load, but also post-load delivery and management of software modules to address channel, customer and user needs of handset manufacturers.

– Post-sales services: Tier-1 manufacturers have since 2006 been packaging after-sales services onto their handsets (e.g. Nokia Catalogs, Motorola Screen 3 and Sony Ericsson s TrackID) via specialised clients. MSM would allow this client software to be easily manageable and scalable across handset models.

Mobile network operators MNOs face continual challenges in delivering services, particularly as these services are increasingly dependent on handset software enablers:

– Variant creation: Similarly to OEMs, operators must offer a variety of software features to target different end user segments. Operator solutions must ideally be capable of managing hundreds of different device models, a challenge that MSM technologies cater to with post-sales software update and componentisation capabilities. In general, MSM can decouple the service lifecycle from the handset delivery lifecycle, so that new services can be provisioned directly to the handset at any time in the handset lifecycle. For example, operator-customised applications could be delivered to the handset post-load via software component updates.

– Device base enablement: New operator services (e.g. i-mode, open web strategy or HSDPA network upgrades) are often not supported by the installed device base. MSM technologies can enable the existing device base to support newly launched services, thus generating additional revenues throughout the post-sales device lifecycle.

– Post-load handset specification: Typically operators will provide hardware and software requirements to handset manufacturers as fixed, one-off requirements. This is a process manufacturers struggle with, given that operator specifications often exceed 4,000 requirements and are refreshed every six months. By moving part of the handset tailoring or variant creation process to the post-load phase, operators can achieve faster time to market.

Independent software vendors (ISVs) ISVs develop software for the device pre- and post-load by working directly with the OS provider, handset manufacturer or operator, or alternatively by providing applications to the device in an after-sales market. Software management challenges for ISVs are evident in pre-load, post-load and post-sales cases:

– Pre-load integration: ISVs report that pre-load integration and acceptance testing of software is both complex and resource intensive. An ISV that we spoke with indicated that the lead time for software acceptance testing is 4-8 weeks for the S60 platform, 8 weeks for Java and 10-12 weeks for Windows Mobile. MSM stands to reduce that time-to-market cost by decoupling software acceptance testing from device delivery, i.e. allowing testing and integration to occur post-load and post-sales.

– Post-load / post-sales variant management: ISVs catering to consumer applications have to deliver thousands of variants of each application that must be created for the equally numerous flavours and types of software platforms, particularly due to Java fragmentation. For example, software development house Glu Mobile generates approximately 5,000 variants (SKUs) for each one of their top-selling games in order to be ported to 700 device models. As another example, Jamdat shipped 57,000 SKUs of their game titles in 2006. MSM technologies stand to deliver a difference here by allowing application variants to be bundled into a single application that checks for the platform version and adapts the application accordingly. For example in the PC environment where software management is more advanced, Electronic Arts, the largest game developer has to produce 70 variants for each game.

Enterprises Enterprises are actively asking for MSM today under the context of specific enterprise applications such as device policy management, ability to manage/update software and applications on the device and inventory reporting. Mobile phones need to be managed as IT assets similar to the PCs on the enterprise network. The requirement here is very much for an end-to-end solution and key to this is security and reliability with service level agreements becoming the norm. MSM provides the ability to gain control over granularly managing software on employee devices in the field.

End users Last but not least, mobile software management enables a wide range of scenarios that offer value to end users, such as: – Buy, pick & mix. – Accessorise me. – Dress me up. – Fix me. – Check me up – Supersize me

For a detailed discussion of these user-centric scenarios see part one of this series on mobile software management.

Behind the industry scenes: deployments and vendors Based on 20+ interviews with software vendors, network operators and handset manufacturers that we conducted for our VisionMobile report on Mobile Software Management, we understand that at least eight trials of mobile software management technologies are underway as of H1 2007.

The supply part of the MSM market is in a nascent stage. Despite the early stage of the market, a large, diverse range of vendors are moving to exploit revenue opportunities in mobile software management.

MSM players

The above table summarises key vendors from each category of actors playing in the MSM market:

– OS vendors, e.g. S60/Symbian, Windows Mobile, EMP, Mentor Graphics (Nucleus) – Modular operating systems, e.g. BREW and Open-Plug – System integrators, e.g. Teleca, Sasken, SysOpen Digia – Software component management vendors, e.g. Red Bend – Retailers, e.g. Carphone Warehouse – Distributors, e.e.g Brightpoint, Brighstar, Cellstar – Software vendors, e.g. Abaxia, Cibenix – MDM incumbents, e.g. HP, InnoPath, mFormation, Nokia (Intellisync), Sicap, SmartTrust, Smith Micro, Synchronica, WDS Global – Application environment vendors, e.g. Java, Flash Lite

Winners and Losers Amidst this emerging market, we argue that winners are operators with an advanced handset software strategy such as Orange and Vodafone and manufacturers who have embarked on a complete software redesign and service-focused modularity like Motorola with their Linux-Java and UIQ platforms.

Vendors we have high expectations from include Open-Plug, which offers tools for software modularity; Red Bend Software, which provides a solution to perform software component updating on mobile devices and is already the preferred firmware update partner for several major OEMs; mFormation who has grown its product portfolio to offer a full set of MDM and MSM services, while continually attracting venture capital and securing global deals with tier-1 operators; and Abaxia who has pioneered use of SIM cards for service delivery post-factory.

The challenge these providers will face is to build relationships and strike deals with major operators and handset OEMs early on, while the market is still figuring out how to solve’s today s issues.

– Andreas

The VisionMobile research report Mobile Software Management: Advances and Opportunities in Service Delivery dissects the complex array MSM technologies, reviews eight major vendors, presents several operator case studies and uncovers key market trends within mobile software management.

The paper is available as a free download from


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