In July, Verizon Wireless launched an initiative designed to partner with application developers to jointly create new services, a huge step for a company with a reputation among developers as very difficult to work with. As director of strategic business development and partner management for Verizon Wireless, Ed Ruth is now responsible for working not only with content creators like record labels, but also this growing base of developer partners to help drive innovation and, ultimately, more mobile entertainment users.

Among all mobile operators, Verizon has been perhaps most aggressive in the mobile music space, heavily advertising ringback tones and its Rhapsody partnership in VCast Music. But mobile music sales continue to struggle. In this interview-a preview of the topics expected during his keynote at Mobile Entertainment Live-Ruth outlines how Verizon's new open development strategy aims to address this issue and drive mobile music and entertainment adoption in the years ahead.

What's your overall opinion of the state of mobile music?
Demand for music is higher than it ever has been. Of course we're competing against free. Business models are evolving and changing and within the digital space we're having to meet the needs of the consumer in unique and new ways. I can't think of a better time for that to be the challenge than in an open development environment where innovation can be delivered through platforms and devices of growing functionality and capability. The stars are really aligning for this business to really take off in the years to come, and even drive volume through existing business models. Mobile is really in the early stages of truly opening up to innovation to make those things happen.

What are the major changes that has taken place in the mobile content landscape in the last few years that have set this stage?
A few things are happening. At the very highest level, carriers are really opening up their doors to the development community and asking them to be stewards of innovation. This is us saying we're going to be good at a few things and we're going to continue to be good in these areas. Maybe its ringtones and full track downloads. But there's a whole bunch of other stuff open to innovation. Combine the ideas of the developer with the areas of expertise of the carrier, and you now have a brand new offering with great consumer advocacy and interest meeting a need that's traditionally been a nascent space.

You're talking about the App Store model.
Yes. Combined with that are that devices are becoming more capable. You're seeing a shift away from devices that are for making phone calls and text messages to devices with the computing power of PCs from the 90s. When you combine open with increased computing power, it really is a recipe for success. I'll even add a third, which is network speed and capacity, which is just about to turn the corner to a whole new world. It's like going from dial-up modems to broadband speed.

What changes can we expect specifically from Verizon Wireless? You've been known for being a difficult operator to work with.
It's a fair assessment of our history. BREW (Verizon's content platform) has a very closed architecture. We've carefully curated that environment-making sure we had the best, not necessarily the most. It's been challenging for developers. The tools made available to them, the way they had to port apps to different devices, the access to our network... all of those things have been very closed down. In July, we announced we're opening up. We're taking down all the barriers that have stopped developers from proliferating. We're opening up APIs (application programming interfaces) that have never been available before. We're opening up location-based location API's. We're going to open up messaging APIs. Things like that allow the developers new sets of tools to incorporate into their applications. It means every application knows where you are and can offer location-based information based on your preferences and needs. The practical application here can be a Jay-Z app offering you early ticket sales for the specific venue that you're close to. These kinds of things have not been available, and specifically for mobile devices can be true boons for certain businesses that really need the ability to communicate with a consumer on a one-to-one basis.

Larger artists and labels have not had much trouble utilizing mobile opportunities, but the perception among emerging or smaller acts is that mobile is not for them. How will that change?
I agree. It traditionally has been challenging for the smaller artist. At Verizon, from a programming perspective, we've always tried to keep an eye on that new artists, but that does rely on the programming of our team and it's not been a standalone tool for a smaller or emerging artist to take the reigns in their own hands. What being open does for the smaller, newer or indie artists-and those all have different scenarios-is that there will be social-aware APIs available for applications. That means if an artist is on Twitter and building a fanbase or on Facebook, they'll be able to post links to their application. That allows them to allow fans to find them in the mobile space, and this becomes the mobile tool to announce big announcements. We're going to create the right toolsets for the inexperienced developer to build something in a fairly easy and low cost way, and reach 80 million consumers when doing so. So it'll be a matter of leveraging either existing or new APIs that start to connect mobile and Web and network and social spaces so that you can build your own awareness around your own application and speak to your fans directly.

So if developers are making the apps and devices improving the features, where does that leave you? How do you avoid the dreaded "dumb pipe" label?
We're going to provide the conduit, but the conduit has to be smart. We have to provide the right access points to make sure the innovation is based on and leveraging all the right tools. Are we taking back seat here? I would say now. We're at least allowing a passenger, and maybe two steering wheels. Traditionally, it's been putting you in the back of a truck in a little camper shell and we're doing all the driving. But now we're in a van and we're all rolling along together and we've got a lot of different inputs. It's not a dump pipe, and we're not going down that path. We will continue to have core services we will offer as API sets. We've worked closely with Slacker, for instance, to develop a search API to our music catalog. It allows the consumer to use both the Slacker app and our VCast service in one app. So we're still building something, but offering it as a tool for the developer to enhance their consumer experience. So in this particular case, if they're listening to a track on Slacker, we're going to provide the links to buy their music or their ringtone.

What do you think will be the dominant model for mobile, buy to own or pay to access? And with the Spotify streaming app now approved, do you see more on-demand streaming applications coming to mobile?
The debate between pay to own vs. rent for life is a worthy debate that will be debated for the rest of our lives. The reality is there are those who are heavy consumers of music that having unlimited access is the model they'll want to take. There are others who always want to own. The short answer is that we're looking at every possible model. Those new models are much more likely to now happen because of network capacity improvements and device improvements. We're looking closely at those models. This is why open is so great because the innovation will come from not just, but many. And ultimately the consumer will choose what is best for them.

Ruth will participate in a Keynote Interview with AT&T's director of premium content Rob Hyatt at Billboard's Mobile Entertainment Live , taking place Oct. 6 in San Diego as part of the CTIA Wireless I.T. & Entertainment conference, where these and other topics will be explored. Other Keynotes include conversations with Fall Out Boy's Pete Wentz and BlackBerry creator Research in Motion. A full agenda and registration details are available at www.billboardevents.com.