Vodafone, the world's largest mobile operator by revenue, plans to launch a mobile online store to sell games, news and travel applications that its customers can buy on whatever model of phone they use.
In the latest move by the industry in the wake of the runaway success of Apple's AppStore, Vodafone said on Tuesday that content partners and developers would only need to create Web applications once to reach millions of customers.
The developers will be able to charge for the applications directly through Vodafone's billing system and will get a 70 percent revenue share.
The first applications will be available toward the end of the year in the UK, Italy, Germany, Spain, Netherlands, Greece, Portugal and Ireland and Vodafone said it expected to expand the service in the future.
As phone makers and operators search for ways to stimulate demand and differentiate themselves in a saturated market, software that is easy and inexpensive to access has proven popular.
After witnessing the success of Apple's AppStore service, mobile groups, including market leaders Nokia, Microsoft Blackberry and others, have raced to launch their own software stores this year
The AppStore lets iPhone users download thousands of small software programs that personalize the way they play games, get directions and listen to music.
Apple said in April that customers had downloaded 1 billion applications in just nine months.
Vodafone will offer content developers the chance to reach millions of users quickly. A developer will get a piece of software to create the application, which will enable it to be used on all Vodafone handsets and devices.
Vodafone said their content partners and developers would also get access to its network capabilities, such as the mobile's location, to offer a wider and more innovative choice of services.
The company also said it would work to give access to up to 1 billion customers through its partner networks, which include Verizon Wireless in the United States and China Mobile.
Vodafone customers who have handsets that already offer applications, such as the soon-to-be launched Nokia service, will be able to choose which system they use.
By giving (the developers) simple access to our global customer base and network assets, such as direct billing and location awareness, we will help them to make more money while providing our customers with the innovative services that they want, Chief Executive Vittorio Colao said.
Research firm Strategy Analytics forecast earlier this year that the value of the mobile content market -- including downloadable games, ringtones, wallpapers, video, mobile TV, text alerts and mobile Web browsing -- would grow 18 percent to $67 billion this year.
(Reporting by Kate Holton; editing by Karen Foster)