On the Hot Seat with Verizon's Anthony Lewis

Open networks were a hot topic at the CTIA Wireless I.T. & Entertainment conference in San Francisco earlier this month. At the center of the open access debate is Verizon Wireless' Vice President of Open Development Anthony Lewis, who is charged with developing Verizon's open device and application initiative. Lewis talked to FierceWireless editor in chief Sue Marek at the show about Verizon's progress on this front and why this carrier's approach is different from its competitors.

FierceWireless: Verizon first announced the Open Device Initiative last fall. How is the program progressing?

Anthony Lewis: Two devices have been certified on the network through this program--the SupplyNet Communications device and an inmate tracking device made by Behavior Innovations. It's basically a device that tracks those that have skirted the law. 

There also is a low-cost handset that is in process [this device was shown by Verizon Wireless CEO Lowell McAdam during the opening keynote session at the CTIA Wireless I.T. & Entertainment show in San Francisco]. It is pre-certified.

FierceWireless:  How much interest have you had in this program?

Lewis: Back in March in New York we had a conference about the Open Device Initiative and we had about 320 companies that physically attended the conference and received the introduction to the program. An additional 350 watched the broadcast live via the Web. Some folks were application developers but we also had distributors. RadioShack was a presenter at the conference.

FierceWireless: When it comes to open networks, some operators are more focused on open applications. I spoke with Sprint Nextel's Kevin Packingham last week and he said Sprint thinks the big opportunity is in the applications area.  What is Verizon's view?

Lewis: We are a catalyst for the device maker. We have invested in a network and we have distribution partners interested in this as well. 

Investing in designing devices is no small feat. We want to encourage this and we are getting those folks together with distribution partners. We are figuring out what is the business model to get the handsets into the hands of consumers and businesses. That is why we have open development business at Verizon. 

I don't disagree with other operators that think the applications are important. Applications are a big part of the business. We agree. We think we have to start with the devices and the device market is huge. If you look at the market-just think of all the devices that are possible. Look at home automation alone. I'm not talking about just embedding a chip in the television and the refrigerator.  We can start to make your home smart and there is an incentive to do it. 

Being able to wirelessly connect all these devices is simple. When you move to a new home the appliances will typically last 10-15 years. What if we had the ability to tell you when something was going to go wrong? Just like the computers that are in your car today, we can have those same indicators in your home with diagnostic signals that can be sent via SMS. 

FierceWireless: So you have focused not just on the device market but on machine to machine communications?

Lewis: We think this is the sweet spot for us and we can cultivate the market. We want to be on the forefront. Folks are surprised that we are being proactive about this because few companies want to do this. We get in early and partner early. We get the devices certified on the network and you don't have to wonder about it again.

FierceWireless: What is the biggest challenge for you?

Lewis: I need to execute and get out there to support the mechanism behind this organization. Without a device, an application is interesting. But we are redefining what a device means in the wireless business.

In the future, the majority of the wireless devices will be M2M devices. You won't even know they are communicating and helping you.

FierceWireless: You are starting with this vision now--with the 1xEVDO Rev. A network and not waiting until LTE?

Lewis: No we are not going to wait for LTE. We want to get to market right away. As the network transitions, we will too.

I have to substantiate that I have created an organization around this. I am out to prove this is the way to go and the future of the connections and devices.

FierceWireless: But what about the application side of this?

Lewis: Right now we are concentrating on devices. You can run any application on these devices, it doesn't matter to me. And you can run any operating system. I'll take them all. I'm not excluding applications. Go ahead and bring me applications. Application providers were prominent at the conference. But we need the devices to supply to the application providers.

FierceWireless: But your vision of the connected home doesn't necessarily take advantage of the wireless network. Why do you need mobile to monitor appliances?

Lewis: You don't.  Our vision includes all of Verizon. Depending on the application, it could be using the Verizon Wireless network, Verizon's FIOS network or even WiFi.  In the future you may want certain things in your home to be mobile and maybe those things will talk to immobile devices. So the communications will move from one network to the other.