Today at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Spain, 24 of the world’s largest and most influential wireless carriers – with a combined subscriber base of around 3 billion - have announced they are joining forces to create the Wholesale Applications Community. This venture is designed to make it easier for software developers to write and supply apps for as many phones as possible, regardless of their platform. Obviously, the group hopes this proposed mega-store will emulate the likes of Apple and Nokia in the growing app store marketplace.

Joining Verizon, AT&T, Vodafone and China Mobile and the other major carriers in the initiative are the GSM Association (around 800 mobile operator members and 200 related companies) and three device manufacturers – LG, Samsung and Sony Ericsson.

"The GSMA is fully supportive the Wholesale Applications Community, which will build a new, open ecosystem to spur the creation of applications that can be used regardless of device, operating system or operator," said Rob Conway, CEO and Member of the Board, GSMA. "This approach is completely in line with the principles of the GSMA, and in fact leverages the work we have already undertaken on open network APIs (OneAPI). This is tremendously exciting news for our industry and will serve to catalyse the development of a range of innovative cross-device, cross-operator applications."

Why would the companies want to unite? Research giant Gartner gives a few billion reasons why the telcos are interested. It predicts spending to increase from US$4.5 billion last year (up from US$2.5 billion in 2008) to a whopping US$6.2 billion this year. No wonder the group wants a part of that action. And if it develops more apps for an even wider number of handsets, that US$6.2 billion figure could be modest.

The big question is will the group be able to overcome the hurdles in uniting so many platforms and operators? It won’t be just egos getting in the way, but the technologies and R&D that have gone on prior to this announcement.

However, if the group can unite to solve its fragmentation problem, developers will no doubt enjoy the common open standards that the Wholesale Applications Community is proposing. Those standards include Joint Innovation Lab (Verizon, Vodafone and China Mobile) and OMTP BONDI, two standards that are expected to meld into a common standard by 2011.

The full list of operators are (in alphabetical order): America Movil, AT&T, Bharti Airtel, China Unicom, Deutsche Telekom, KT, mobilkom Austria, MTN Group, NTT Docomo, Orange, Orascom Telecom, Telecom Italia, Telefonica, Telenor, TeliaSonera, SingTel, SK Telecom, Sprint, VimpelCom and WIND.

What will Apple do in reply? The company that was once a bit-player to a select few is now by far the industry leader in this area, and one would think Apple would be reluctant to let the grass grow under its feet.

Stay tuned to Gizmag for further updates from the Mobile World Congress.