Verizon Wireless, arguably the most proprietary and protectionist of America's wireless carriers, shocked industry onlookers yesterday by announcing that it would open up its network next year. The move will allow customers to use a dramatically wider range of hardware and software than is currently possible, and would make Verizon's network more like that of its European and Asian counterparts.
Questions remain, however. Verizon has yet to reveal how it plans to charge customers for this more open service, though the company has said that the open network would be offered as "an additional option for customers looking for a different wireless experience." Also, because Verizon Wireless runs on CDMA technology, which is incompatible with the GSM service used by most international carriers, as well as AT&T and T-Mobile in the US, it's unclear whether this new option will have wide-spread repercussions for customers. The problem is that today's devices must be specifically created specifically to run on either GSM or CDMA as the two network types are incompatible.
Verizon Wireless is far more sanguine about the possibilities, however. "This is a transformation point in the 20-year history of mass-market wireless devices, one which we believe will set the table for the next level of innovation and growth," says Verizon Wireless president and CEO Lowell McAdam.
In the months leading up to this change, Verizon Wireless will host a conference at which it will reveal the technical standards that hardware makers will need to comply with in order to connect to the network, and seek feedback. Final standards will be published in early 2008, and the company plans to open its network by mid-2008.
Verizon Wireless's decision to open its network to outside hardware and software comes in the wake of Google's Android project, by which the company also seeks to open up the US wireless market, and an FCC decision to open up a portion of the country's wireless spectrum to auction. The FCC says it wants this slice of the spectrum be open to any hardware and software, and it's likely now that Verizon Wireless will make its own bid. Google CEO Eric Schmidt called the Verizon Wireless move "a great step forward."
While it's unclear how the opening of the Verizon Wireless network will affect other wireless carriers in the US, it's highly likely that they will make similar changes in order to retain customers. If consumers are able to access a wider range of cell phones and other mobile devices on Verizon Wireless, along with a new generation of Internet-based applications from companies such as Google, eBay, Skype, Microsoft, and others, they will expect the same freedoms from their own carriers.