Verizon leaves open questions unanswered

About 300 mobile handset execs and developers descended on the Millennium Broadway hotel near Times Square last week for Verizon Wireless' first Open Development Initiative conference to hear the operator outline its technical specifications and best practices policies for devices created under its nascent open access effort. According to Verizon, only devices that pass compatibility trials will be allowed to interface with its network, promising the certification process will be relatively quick and painless provided developers do sufficient work prior to applying for approval. Verizon also launched a new website where developers may offer feedback, check the status of their submissions as they run the certification gauntlet, and ask questions.

Questions will no doubt be plentiful, because by and large the Verizon conference didn't offer software developers many answers, focusing far more on devices than on applications. Overall, the event seemed less about the impact of open access on the development community and more about the impact of open access on the carrier's business. ("It is important to remember that Verizon Wireless will continue to focus on and pursue its successful retail model supporting a full-service wireless offering and customer experience," reads the Open Development FAQ. "The Open Development business will complement, not replace, our full-service offerings.") Verizon says it will not be responsible for device support issues, delegating that responsibility to the manufacturer, and that it will refuse to approve, test or service third-party applications that customers load onto their Open Development Devices.

That's what Verizon Wireless won't do--what it will do isn't as clear. At least in the short term, the carrier plans to certify a number of external test labs to conduct Open Development Device approval testing, and presumably certified devices will begin hitting the market by year's end. But Verizon did not divulge information on consumer pricing plans or how much it will charge for device certification, so even those details remain cloudy. Verizon is opening its network as promised, but it's doing so slowly and tentatively--and at least for now, application developers are still on the outside looking in. -Jason