New Informa Telecoms and Media research shows that mobile services offer great opportunities for content providers - but analysts there are dismissive of rumours that Apple will set-up its own mobile phone networks.

In a report released yesterday, Informa observed that major brand owners are moving into mobile services. At present third-party (non-telecoms providers) receive under 30 per cent of mobile service revenues.

Major brands follow consumers to mobile

That landscape is changing, "as brand owners and media companies start to leverage the consumer base they have developed over the years", the analysts state.

They add: "Increasingly the strength of the media company's content and its associated brand are seen as decisive factors in bringing a mobile offering to market."

With Motorola, Apple has been working to produce mobile handsets that can synchronize with iTunes. It's thought the new units will launch through as yet unrevealed mobile phone operators as soon as next month.

It has also been widely speculated that Apple may choose to become a mobile network provider itself, leveraging its brands, in order to ensure its iTunes mobile has a route to market and to protect its music services from the anticipated entry of multiple mobile operators into the market.

Can Apple take the competition?

It's purported Apple will achieve this by renting network coverage from a major operator, and then reselling the network under its own brand.

Informa Telecoms and Media chief research officer Mark Newman dismissed the notion, telling Macworld: "I don't see why Apple would want to develop its own virtual mobile network business."

He added: "I would assume that Apple's strategy for the integrated mobile phone/ music player is to sell as many units as possible and to work with mobile operators to allow buyers of the phones to download tracks using iTunes."

He pointed out that making such a step would immediately transform existing mobile operators into a new line of competitors for the Cupertino computer company.

Big brand mobile network battle in sight

Informa Telecoms and Media analyst Richard Jesty however sees definite signs that strong brands are emerging to offer non-network services within the mobile industry, observing: "Whereas mobile operators were originally seen as pure service providers, the continuing growth of mobile services revenues has seen them assume the role of content providers as well, often as lead partners with third party service providers.
Whether Apple chooses to create its own-branded virtual mobile network or not, existing mobile operators can expect to see major brands debut within their market.

"From 2005 onwards, operators will begin to come under more pressure from brand and media owners adopting a virtual network operator model. Here it is the brand owner which assumes the lead role, aiming to leverage the direct billing channel to generate revenue streams from its content portfolio," Jesty explained.