I awoke this morning to headlines in Yahoo Finance proclaiming “Verizon Opens Up Network“. Seems like pretty exciting stuff. What an amazing turnaround for the carrier that kicked my wife’s Amp’d Mobile Motorola e816 off their network last July when Amp’d folded. The same company that reportedly started banning new activations of Verizon branded Windows or Palm smartphones on their prepaid service just a few days ago . The Verizon that just last month stopped activating Verizon branded prepaid phones on contract plans. But wait! You still can’t actually do any of those things. The opening of Verizon’s network is a year away and any device still has to be approved by Verizon’s yet to be built $20 million testing facility before it will be allowed on the network.
Change is coming for sure. The enormous potential of mobile data services has been denied by carrier restrictions for too long. Now that we have phones running desktop operating systems like Safari and Linux, customers are questioning why they can’t install desktop quality applications on these devices or why 3rd party applications are blocked from accessing their phone’s GPS chip or phone book. Regulators too are beginning to question the closed nature of mobile networks. Verizon has responded with a press release proclaiming their new openness. This could be significant, Verizon has historically been the most restrictive of US networks in locking down their network and devices. At this point all Verizon has given us is a press release. I’m hoping something positive for consumers and innovators will come out of this, but I’m skeptical. The fact that Verizon will be conducting business as usual for another year doesn’t look good. I guess they need time to build that lab. But you know what? Every phone sold in the US already has to undergo rigorous testing and approval by the FCC. I’d be willing to bet the FCC’s lab cost taxpayers at least $20 million. If a phone is good enough to get government approval shouldn’t it be good enough for Verizon? The GSM networks seem to be holding up pretty well to users being able to switch devices freely, is Verizon’s CDMA infrastructure that fragile?
If Verizon really wants to show how open they are they could start right now by allowing customers to activate any FCC approved CDMA 800/1900 devices that can accept Verizon OTA programming, like the e816 or an Alltel phone or a Verizon Moto Q on prepaid.
All carping aside, my take is that Verizon’s “opening” of their network is a response Google’s Android and positioning in advance of the 700MHz spectrum auction. The actual opening is set to occur late next year, where it conveniently coincides with the release of the first Android phone.
It’s interesting to compare the press reactions to Verizon’s announcement. Mainstream tech media like Infoworld and PC Magazine’s Sascha Segan are quite positive, as is FCC Chairman Kevin J. Martin. Bloggers who follow the mobile industry like Carlo Longino at MobHappy and Om Malik seem more skeptical. Will Verizon really become an open network or is it all politics and PR? Leave a comment telling us what you think.