Taking a page out of Apple's book, France Telecom's mobile phone unit Orange launched its own shop to sell downloadable videos, games, music and other content to its 130 million mobile phone subscribers.
Orange said on Wednesday it will launch its App Shop in France and the UK immediately, and then roll it out into its other markets like Spain, Poland, and Slovakia in 2010.
The move shows how telecom operators are seeking ways to make money from the rise of the mobile Internet, as more and more people surf the web on their phones.
Apple's App Store, which launched in mid-2008, has proven extremely popular with 2 billion downloads this year. And telecom operators and technology firms including Vodafone, Nokia, and Microsoft want to follow suit.
However, analysts say others will likely struggle to match the success of Apple's store, hampered by technical issues, a lack of applications and increased competition.
Nokia started its own app store in May called Ovi, and Microsoft also plans an on-line bazaar to sell mobile software on its Windows phones.
Mobile apps are redefining how people experience the internet on mobile phones, said Christophe Francois, the head of Orange's Technocentre in an interview on the sidelines of the leWeb 09 conference in Paris.
TARGETING THOSE WITHOUT AN IPHONE
We're not doing this to counter Apple, in fact we think it is complementary, said Francois. Not everyone has an iPhone so we want our App Store to serve people with other kinds of handsets.
In January, Orange will begin pre-loading its App Shop software on some of the handsets its sells, including two Sony Ericsson models and a Nokia phone. It will later add Samsung, LG, HTC, Motorola and RIM phones.
The business opportunity in mobile software and content is considerable.
Research firm Strategy Analytics forecasts the value of the mobile content market will grow 18 percent to $67 billion this year. But it remains to be seen how much of this market tech firms and telecom operators will be able to wrest away from Apple.
Francois said Orange is in a good position to succeed in selling mobile software, or apps, because it already has existing billing relationships with its customers.
Orange also plans to customize its application shop in each country by hiring local managers to choose the best content for the market, he said.
(Editing by Sharon Lindores)