Color Verizon’s announcement today however you want: an about-face, a shocking surprise, a concession to Google and the Powers-That-Be. But the No. 2 U.S. carrier opening up its network to any phone and any software application is nothing more than Verizon counter-punching in a high-stakes heavyweight bout between the carriers, Google, the government, and consumers.
I’m glad they did it. Woopie! Fantastic! Way to go! But this should have been done years ago by a notoriously protective carrier known for its iron-fisted rule over the devices running on its network. After all, the use-whatever-device-you-want approach has been practiced for years by T-Mobile and other GSM carriers, especially outside of the U.S.
As David Farber told Wired today, “So, basically, Verizon has now joined every other carrier out there — with the exception of AT&T — in saying they will allow other devices to run on their network. They’re just saying ‘me too! me too!’ “
Farber, a professor of computer science and public policy at Carnegie Mellon, is an outspoken proponent of open access who sees little reason to celebrate. “They’re doing what T-Mobile and most GSM carriers have done for years.”
To make this work, Verizon will publish technical standards needed to connect to its CDMA network. It will host a conference so device developers can learn more about Verizon’s network and the carrier can learn about any problems that arise. Verizon will drop $20 million into its certification lab, so anyone who has a device and wants to connect to the Verizon network must be certified first.
As Kevin Tofel writes, “If you have the smarts to build a cellular-based device in your basement, VZW will test it and, if it meets the minimal network standards, it will get approved.”
For the consumer, Verizon will offer two service packages: its traditional bundle, which usually includes a subsidy for the phone purchase and various other perks, and a BYOD (bring-your-own-device) plan. The company said today:
While most Verizon Wireless customers prefer the convenience of full service, the company is listening through today’s announcement to a small but growing number of customers who want another choice without full service.
Small but growing number? The noise about open access on U.S. wireless networks is anything but small.
There’s the behemoth Google, which just three weeks ago announced the Open Handset Alliance (OHA), which has 30+ companies (but not Verizon — yet) dedicated to bringing open access to the wireless world. Part of the OHA strategy is the development of Android, an open-source mobile operating system that can be used to power not one or two Gphones but thousands.
And there’s this company called Google that plans to bid on the upcoming 700 MHz spectrum in January, pitting itself against a stodgy, arrogant, visionless carrier named Verizon Wireless and, most likely, another old-school telecom company, AT&T.
And there’s pressure from the U.S. government’s Federal Communications Commission, which favors open access for any device on any network.
And there’s the iPhone software developer kit coming in February, which will allow developers to create any software application they want for the Apple phone.
And there are consumers who are pissed that they can’t use any device they want, with whatever applications they choose, on any carrier they are contracted with.
So, while Verizon’s announcement today appears to be “stunning” and “shocking”, it’s nothing more than VZW counter-punching Google, the FCC, other carriers, even consumers. Expect many more flurries to come from all the players between now and the spectrum bid.
Next up to take a swipe of its own: AT&T?