Why is AT&T behind Google and Verizon in the open-network game?

Why is AT&T behind Google and Verizon in the open-network game?AT&T, the No. 1 U.S. wireless carrier, is dropping the open network ball here and is looking pretty goofy in the process.

USA Today ran an ebullient story on AT&T flinging its cellphone network wide open as if it was big, big news. “Starting immediately, AT&T customers can ditch their AT&T phones and use any wireless phone, device and software application from any maker,” USA Today wrote.

AT&T CEO Ralph de la Vega piles on, “You can use any handset on our network you want. We don’t prohibit it, or even police it.”

But as we know, AT&T operates a GSM network. Anybody with an AT&T SIM card (subscriber identity module) can use any unlocked GSM-enabled phone on its network. The phone can use any operating system — Windows Mobile, Symbian, Linux.

Go into any AT&T retail store and sales people will tell you — unofficially until now — that wireless customers had the option of using devices and applications other than those offered by AT&T. As USA Today notes, AT&T sales people will let consumers “know all their options” before making the final purchase.

“It was much ado about nothing,” keen teleco observer Om Malik wrote at GigaOM.

Here’s what I don’t understand. AT&T is No. 1 in the U.S. among carriers. This open-your-network movement has been brewing for a while and reached consumer consciousness when search giant and household name Google announced last month the formation of the Open Handset Alliance and a new open software platform, Android.

Noticeably absent from the OHA were the U.S.’s top carriers, AT&T and Verizon Wireless. To its credit, Verizon has come forth and said it is opening its CDMA network as best it can. Not only that, Verizon said this week it is supporting Google’s Android.

Skeptics point out that Verizon, and now AT&T, are posturing before the Federal Communications Commission’s 700 MHz spectrum auction in January. A condition of those who bid successfully on spectrum must open their new networks to any phone and any software application.

ATT logoSo where the heck has AT&T been? Counting its cash from its partnership with Apple and the iPhone? If AT&T’s network is more open, why not say so from the git-go — before or after Google’s OHA/Android announcement and before Verizon’s declaration?

USA Today notes that, “Everything that Google has promised to bring to the wireless market a year from now AT&T is doing today, de la Vega says. ‘We are the most open wireless company in the industry.’”

Then why not take the lead and say so? Instead, AT&T just looks like it has no plan for change.

Photo credit: AT&T CEO Ralph de la Vega, Engadget

last100 is edited by Steve O'Hear. Aside from founding last100, Steve is co-founder and CEO of Beepl and a freelance journalist who has written for numerous publications, including TechCrunch, The Guardian, ZDNet, ReadWriteWeb and Macworld, and also wrote and directed the Silicon Valley documentary, In Search of the Valley. See his full profile and disclosure of his industry affiliations.

One Response to “Why is AT&T behind Google and Verizon in the open-network game?”

  1. David Mackey says:

    Fascinating. So when are you going to answer the question? :-)