Verizon Wireless embraces open access

In a potentially game-changing announcement, Verizon Wireless said it will open its network to enable subscribers to use handsets, software and applications not otherwise offered by the operator. Under an initiative dubbed "Any Apps, Any Device," Verizon will introduce open access nationwide by the end of 2008--early next year, the carrier will publish technical standards enabling the development community to create products to interface with the Verizon network, stating that any CDMA-based device meeting minimum technical criteria will be approved for consumer use. Moreover, any application the subscriber chooses will be allowed on approved devices.

"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 Verizon Wireless president and chief executive officer Lowell McAdam in a prepared 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." Verizon said it will continue to provide a full-service offering spanning from retail stores to 24/7 customer service and technical support, as well as optimized software applications.

The long-term ramifications of the move remain far from clear. While the general consensus among analysts and pundits is that Verizon's announcement essentially forces its operator rivals to follow suit, the biggest question is whether the about-face promises to transform their networks into little more than dumb pipes.

During a media briefing last week, McAdam said the company concluded it can no longer keep pace with innovation in both devices and applications, and realizes there is a growing segment of the subscriber population that wants Verizon to simply provide a platform to enable the services and devices it wishes to use. "Soon Verizon Wireless will not be able to meet every customer's needs with our specific portfolio of devices and applications," McAdam said. "What apps are downloaded to the device are the choice and the responsibility of the customer."

Of course, a majority of third-party devices on the market are designed to work over GSM/UMTS, not on the CDMA/1xEV-DO air interface technology that Verizon Wireless currently uses. No doubt the operator is seeking to galvanize handset and software development in the CDMA/EV-DO arena. While third-party content and application providers are likely to face obstacles in billing--a chore typically handled by the operator--it seems logical to assume that the freedoms Verizon promises will enable the development of independent billing systems, especially given that content providers should now enjoy a closer working relationship with handset makers. Mobile advertising efforts should also enjoy a significant boost.

One potential loser is Qualcomm's BREW development solution. In the past, it was imperative that developers seeking a spot on Verizon's deck earn BREW certification--now developers and service providers can operate off-portal without concern for BREW specifications. At last week's briefing, Verizon said that it would allow CDMA-compatible devices with Java applications on its network.  

For more on the Any Apps, Any Device campaign:
- read this release

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