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Mobile platform provider and AT&T partner Antenna Software extended its market reach this week with AT&Ts release of new vertical mobile applications, exclusively powered by Antenna’s Mobility Platform (AMP). AT&T’s new vertical applications for the consumer packaged goods and hospitality markets run on AT&Ts Mobile Enterprise Application Platform (MEAP), a white-labeled version of Antenna’s platform. The new offering expands AT&Ts application portfolio, which previously included horizontal solutions for sales, service, and IT support.

Antenna’s embedded software relationship with AT&T is a big score for the 200-employee mobile software company. Software providers and VARs looking to sell through or with carriers may learn a thing or two from the way Antenna forged, strengthened, and eventually structured its relationship with AT&T.

Here’s how Antenna did it. For several years, Antenna built trust with the carrier by co-selling and co-marketing enterprise mobile solutions. Antenna aided and educated the carrier’s enterprise sales force by providing guidance through the enterprise sales cycle and sharing mobile business process expertise. These efforts led to what Antenna describes as very large deals with five or six large global brands, including Coca-Cola Enterprises.

Then, in September of 2008, Antenna scored big when AT&T strengthened and expanded its co-sales and co-marketing activities into a formal relationship. AT&T selected Antenna as its embedded software partner, and began reselling packaged applications for sales, service and IT support exclusively powered by and hosted in entirety by Antenna.

According to Antenna’s director of product management Ken Parmelee, proven mobile business expertise, multiple device support and the flexible and broad nature of its platform were among the reasons why AT&T chose Antenna to be the exclusive enabler of its MEAP products.

“One of the most important things about the carrier model is that they recognize that mobility expertise is not easy to come by,” Parmelee said. “Deploying in business involves more requirements around security, provisioning, usability and online and offline technologies there is a lot more to these type of apps. What we bring to AT&T is that expertise to work with them to make sure they are well-positioned.”

Antenna’s offerings include pre-packaged horizontal and industry-specific applications as well as its platform, which it released two years ago. The platform is designed for customers and partners to rapidly build, deploy and manage mobile business applications. Today, the majority of customers are at the enterprise-level, but Antenna sees the SMB market as a key space for growth and one which AT&T is uniquely positioned to attack.

Releasing a platform instead of focusing solely on pre-packaged applications appears to have been the right strategic move for Antenna. The platform product strategy allows Antenna to service development, carrier and VAR partners better as well as expand its footprint in customer accounts over time.

Pre-packaged application vendors can only serve a small subset of the market and constantly must innovate the apps to keep up, said Parmelee. The platform provides the best of both worlds.

Customer Coca-Cola Enterprises is a proof-point of Antenna’s successful strategy. Coca-Cola Enterprises is running multiple Antenna applications, including Direct Store Delivery, time-keeping and merchandising applications. Antenna’s support of multiple devices also plays to its success within the account as Coca-Cola Enterprises is using multiple devices across the enterprise, including some hardened Windows Mobile devices and Blackberries.

The Antenna platform also supports the iPhone. Combined with Antenna’s enterprise application expertise and its exclusive relationship with AT&T, Antenna could experience a major windfall as the iPhone picks up steam within the enterprise.

According to Antenna’s senior director of product management, Benjamin Wesson, 70 percent of Antenna customers are running on Windows Mobile devices today, but the company works closely with RIM and Apple, too. Although the company works with hardened device manufacturers like Motorola and Intermec, Antenna sees the enterprise mobile application market shifting from a dominance of rugged devices to overwhelming deployments of consumer-grade devices. The company anticipates growth in the number of deployments on the iPhone, in particular.

“I think it’s fascinating how the iPhone has caught on,” Wesson said. “As they (Apple) move aggressively into the enterprise space, they will get immediate traction because that is their core constituency.

“The cost of rugged devices is very high, and for certain mission critical apps it makes sense,” said Wesson. “But for less intense operations, businesses are asking themselves if it is worth the incremental cost. We’ll start seeing FSA (Field Service Automation) on an iPhone.”

Antenna is already seeing the iPhone’s growth in the enterprise. Along with AT&T, the company secured a pilot with a large rail company that is using the iPhone to process tickets on-board. The company runs an Antenna application and uses the iPhone camera as a barcode scanner.

Through two major declines in enterprise IT spending (the first in 2001 and 2002), Antenna survived by reinventing itself and its products while forging unique partnerships like its AT&T relationship and a similar one with Vodaphone in the UK.

For channel-centric companies, Antenna may serve as an example of reinvention and tenacity, but AT&T’s success at distributing and selling enterprise applications is far from proven. Antenna admits mobility is hard due to its complexity. Antenna’s success path to exponential growth would be to hand the reins over to AT&T’s sales people and mobility consultants, and hope for high volume. However, carriers are traditionally concerned with selling minutes, and not accustomed to a long, complicated solution sell.

Nonetheless, as mobile application providers go, Antenna Software is one the oldest, founded in 1999, and one of the last independent vendors in the mobile application platform market. Another is Chicago-based Syclo. Most other vendors have been gobbled -up by hardware and infrastructure vendors or Antenna Software itself (the company acquired competitor Dexterra in June). Antenna is still around and appears to be thriving because of its creativity in product and distribution. For now, they remain ahead of the curve. Only time will tell if betting on a carriers ability to sell enterprise solutions will lead to sustainable growth.