Verizon to Support Open Device Access

As pressure mounts on traditional wireless carriers from Google and the FCC, the mobile giant continues its change of heart.

By Christopher Saunders | Posted Nov 27, 2007
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Verizon Wireless plans to open up its wireless network to outside devices, software and services, continuing a change of heart for the mobile carrier in advance of the upcoming 700MHz wireless spectrum auction next month.

The company, a joint venture of Verizon Communications and Vodafone, on Tuesday said it expects to begin allowing third-party devices on its network by the end of next year.

Before Verizon Wireless allows a third-party device to use the network, however, it must first be tested and approved, according to the company. Verizon Wireless said in a statement that any device that meets the "minimum technical standard" would be activated on the network.

The testing requirement applies only to devices, the company added—consumers will be free to use any application they wish on those devices.

The company said it plans to begin offering technical specs and standards to developers early next year, enabling them to build devices and applications that can use the Verizon network. Verizon also said it plans to host a developer conference, during which it will explain its network standards and work with developers and device vendors to hammer out differences.

The move comes as the country's entrenched mobile network players face mounting pressure from non-traditional companies pushing into wireless.

It also marks an especially abrupt about-face for Verizon Wireless in particular, which, like AT&T and other major wireless carriers, is expected to bid in the Federal Communications Commission's 700MHz wireless spectrum auction next month.

To encourage competition from non-traditional bidders like Internet firms, the FCC in July added requirements that would force winners of one hotly contested spectrum portion to enable consumers to access it using any mobile device or software they wish.

While the move received applause from Internet giants like Google—which has suggested that it's prepared to shell out upwards of $4.6 billion during the auction—it immediately came under fire from traditional wireless players.

In September, Verizon filed a lawsuit charging that the FCC's open-access rules were contrary to existing law, violated the U.S. Constitution and exceed the commission's authority. Last month, the company dropped the appeal without comment.

Verizon now seems to be continuing that change in policy with Tuesday's announcement. In a statement, the company said its new plan to support open access demonstrates that it has been listening to "a small but growing number of customers who want another choice."

Likewise, company execs painted the new policy as a move to encourage expansion.

"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," said the company's president and CEO, Lowell McAdam, in a statement. "Verizon Wireless is not changing our successful retail model, but rather adding an additional retail option for customers looking for a different wireless experience."

The company also said that it would continue to push its own "full-service" offering, which includes retail stores selling handsets, "optimized software applications" and 24/7 tech support. It added that most of its customers "prefer the convenience of full service."

In addition to the looming FCC wireless auction, the wireless industry is also digesting another push by Google into the wireless device development scene. That effort centers at present around Android, an open software platform for developing mobile applications.

In addition to Google, numerous tech and wireless heavyweights have signed on to support Android. The list includes chipmakers like Qualcomm, Intel and Broadcom, handset manufacturers like LG, Motorola and Samsung, and even wireless carriers T-Mobile and Sprint Nextel.

Operating as the Open Handset Alliance, Android's supporters released the first edition of the platform's SDK earlier this month.

Notable absentees from the effort include AT&T, Verizon, Microsoft, Apple, Nokia and Symbian, the latter of which is partly owned by Samsung.

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