In a stunning about-face, the second-largest wireless carrier in the US, Verizon Wireless, has said that it would allow any compatible device to run on its cellular network by the end of next year. What’s more, users will be able to run any application they wish, Verizon Wireless said.
Verizon Wireless’ network is based on code division multiple access (CDMA) technology, the same as its smaller rival Sprint’s. Currently, cell-phone users can only access either company’s network if they have a service contract with specific handsets. And the carriers limit what type of software those devices can run on their networks.
Wireless carriers in the US are considered more restrictive with what type of devices and content they permit on their networks compared to their counterparts in Europe and elsewhere.
But Verizon Wireless is clearly bowing to pressure from companies calling for more open access, notably Google, which recently promised a relatively open application development platform for unlocked phones with its Open Handset Alliance.
While Verizon Wireless has historically been staunchly adverse to open-access networks, it softened its stance in October when it dropped its appeal against open-access rules set by the US Federal Communications Commission for the forthcoming 700MHz wireless spectrum.
Verizon Wireless chief executive Lowell McAdam said the company planned to open its network in preparation for what he called a tidal wave of innovation in wireless devices. Verizon Wireless currently supports about 50 handsets on its network, but that number could go to 500-plus once the open network launches, McAdam said.
The news of Verizon Wireless’ planned open network was met with cautious optimism by consumer groups. If other carriers don’t follow the same model, then consumers will still find their phones tied to a specific technology or wireless company, said Gigi Sohn, president of Public Knowledge. Until they do, an iPhone will still be useless on any network but AT&T’s. In order for an open network to become a reality, all carriers will have to participate.
AT&T, of course, is the largest wireless carrier in the US and has an exclusive deal with Apple to carry its iPhone smartphone.
The specifics of how Verizon Wireless will open up its network have yet to be revealed. The company said it would release handset specifications for its network in early 2008. All new devices would be required to be tested in Verizon Wireless’ labs before they could be deployed, said the company.
The company likely will charge users based on the amount of bandwidth they use. Because this would discourage users of high-bandwidth applications, such as video, Verizon Wireless may well also offer a traditional flat-rate service as an alternative.