Defining 'open' access

If you are heading to San Francisco for the CTIA Wireless IT & Entertainment conference later this week be prepared to hear a lot about open access and open networks. "Open" is the new trendy phrase for wireless (similar to how MVNO was the hot term a couple of years ago) and everyone wants to be part of this phenomenon. But what does "open" really mean? The definition changes for every wireless carrier and vendor I speak to.

I know for sure Sprint will be talking about its open strategy this week. I recently talked to Kevin Packingham, senior vice president, product and technology development for Sprint (look for more highlights from that interview in FierceWireless later this week), and he said Sprint sees lots of opportunity in open application development. In fact, Packingham says Sprint is embracing the mobile Web and wants to make it easier for developers to get compelling apps on phones. He cited Sprint's early work with Java as an example of how the carrier has tried to be more open with its mobile applications than other carriers.

While all operators have a vested interest in getting new applications on their devices and in the hands of consumers, they typically have resisted an open environment because of fear certain applications would cause problems and result in lots of complaints to the carrier. But Sprint seems to think it can deliver the type of experience consumers want without wreaking havoc on their handsets or creating a poor customer experience.

Of course, Sprint needs a powerful differentiator to keep its high-end data customers happy and stop the churn. I'm not sure the carrier has all the pieces in place to deliver on this open access promise yet, but it certainly is trying to foster that type of environment, both for its customers and its developer partners.  --Sue  

P.S. Look for all our coverage from the CTIA Wireless IT and Entertainment conference this week at the Web site and in FierceWireless.