The cold war has gone hot.

Although their relationship is highly symbiotic, the companies that make mobile phones have for years sought to gain the upper hand in brand awareness and customer control from those that run wireless networks. That long-simmering struggle has now exploded into an all-out battle to wrest control of the customer experience from wireless operators in the coming age of mobile entertainment, with Apple and Nokia firing the opening salvos.

In the history of the wireless industry, the operators have held all the control, at least in the United States. Here, operators use different technologies, phones are locked to a specific network, and carriers sell devices on behalf of the manufacturer. That means if a phone does not meet the carrier's standards, it won't get sold. Since phones were often developed with that in mind, what the consumer actually wants has sometimes been given short shrift.

Europe is different. Operators there all use the same standard, so all phones are compatible with all networks and customers can buy their devices directly from the manufacturer if they like. As a result, users' needs get priority over carriers' needs—one reason mobile devices have more functionality across the pond.

When mobile phones were primarily used to make voice phone calls, this system worked fine. But everyone wants an ownership stake in the mobile entertainment market, and they're fighting tooth-and-nail for position.

Click here to read more about Nokia's Ovi entertainment service and the backlash from European wireless operators and a similar battle on the horizon over Google's much-rumored Gphone.