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Is Android Really the 'Open' Platform?

By Craig Walkup
May 24, 2011 5:00 AM PT

Much has been claimed by Google ever since the infant days of its Android mobile operating system. The claim it has seemed to champion the most is that its platform is open by nature.

Is Android Really the 'Open' Platform?

One of the biggest complaints about iOS has been Apple's lockdown policy, so naturally, Google would want to make its platform's openness a main selling point. Lately, though, it is starting to become apparent that Android isn't as "open" as we were led to believe.

Pay and Pay Again

One very helpful and popular utility that smartphones and advanced cellular data networks have given us is the ability to tether our phones to our laptops or desktops and use them as a cellular modem for Internet access. Most cellular carriers offer this as a service that you have to pay an extra monthly fee for (usually around US$20 a month).

Now, if you ask me, having to pay extra monthly for that service isn't very fair, considering customers already pay a data plan fee for either unlimited data access, or limited access with an extra per-MB fee after the limit is met. Why should it matter how they're using the data?

All of that is beside the point, though. There are many options across all platforms to tether for free ("free" meaning not paying an extra fee to your carrier). These options usually require rooting your Android phone or jailbreaking your iPhone.

Good Reason to Root

Rooting and jailbreaking are not illegal, but they usually will void your phone's warranty. Typically, though, you can restore the original OS before taking a phone in for service, and the company would never know.

After you root or jailbreak, you have access to many different tethering apps that work just as well as the ones carriers offer for a fee. Let me tell you, these tethering apps are exceptionally valuable during a long car or train ride, or if for some reason your broadband at home goes out.

Now, it seems that Google is working with carriers that are requesting the removal of such third-party tethering apps from the Android Market. Granted, Apple doesn't allow these third-party apps anywhere near its App Store, but that isn't the issue here, considering that Apple has never once claimed to be an open platform.

Open for Business

Another interesting wrinkle to this story is that three years ago, when the C-Block 700 MHz spectrum was up for auction, Google made bids on it with the sole purpose of driving the cost above the $4.6 billion threshold that would trigger the "open applications" and "open handsets" provisions in the licensing agreement -- more specifically, Section 27.20 of Title 47 of the Code of Federal Regulations, which reads as follows:

"Licensees offering service on spectrum subject to this section shall not deny, limit, or restrict the ability of their customers to use the devices and applications of their choice on the licensee's C Block network... ."
Google did not win the auction. (It had no intention of winning it. Verizon won, and it now uses it for its LTE network.) However, I think its pretty hypocritical of Google to fight for the openness of future network technologies, while touting the openness of its own platform -- then turn around and help to limit the usage of data that customers are already paying for.

Maybe Android isn't as "open" as we were led to believe.

Freelance writer Craig Walkup works for the RepairLaunch repair services network.

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