Verizon Changes Heart, Opens Up
Verizon reversed itself today by announcing the company will open its network to wireless devices, software, and applications not offered by the company. This comes just two months after the company sued the federal government to block openness requirements for the winner of the 700 MHz band of wireless spectrum.
A change of heart? Maybe. Or a change of strategy. What some call a "transformation point" in wireless history, others call a possible PR ploy, full of sound of fury, signifying nothing.
Any device capable of running on Verizon’s CDMA network will soon be able to attach those devices to the network, run any software, or install any application they choose. The only catch: Sprint Nextel is the only competitor using CDMA. The rest, like AT&T and T-Mobile, use GSM systems.
Sprint Nextel subscribers, of course, will have to wait until their two-year contracts are up, and then shouldn’t expect tech support from Verizon for non-Verizon phones.
Regardless, some are heralding the move as a crack in the traditional walls erected by wireless carriers to hem customers in. Om Malik goes as far as to compare it to the destruction of the Berlin Wall.
Fortunately or unfortunately, depending on your point of view, there’s always a pooper around. Dan Frommer at Silicon Alley Insider provides a rather sobering assessment of what open devices will mean in the future:
"A phone manufacturer could theoretically decide to start selling its CDMA phones directly to consumers. But people are used to paying artificially low prices for their phones, since carriers currently subsidize their handsets. An unlocked Palm Treo 680 costs $300 more if you buy it directly from Palm without a contract. And big phone makers will still be better off selling their gadgets through carriers, since the carriers will promote and sell them via their extensive marketing channels."
But it’s still nice to have options, don’t you think? Options haven’t historically been forthcoming.
Many have noted, as they should, Google’s recent pressure on the wireless industry, especially via Android and the launch of the Open Handset Alliance, of which Verizon is still not a member.
But the more cynical note the timing of the announcement, coming just months shy of the upcoming 700 MHz auction, as well as mounting support for stricter government regulations. By voluntarily opening up its network, Verizon may be seeking to deflate that support by removing evidence that would support government intervention.
"We see a lot of people getting very excited, but implementation is key, and Verizon’s track record on this front is poor. How sincere Verizon really is about an open network will depend on the price of the service, platform specifics and the fine print (caps, etc.). Whether a genuine paradigm shift or a public relations ploy aimed at beating back open-access critics, it’s clear that Verizon is feeling the heat because of Google."