Verizon Unveils Blueprint for Open Wireless World

Verizon Wireless detailed its plans to open part of its network to third-party devices Wednesday, saying the carrier could begin certifying devices within weeks and that the open portion of its network could be in operation by the second half of this year.

At its first-ever Open Development Device Conference, Verizon told about 300 representatives of third-party firms that it is moving quickly to deliver on the open wireless network access it promised last fall.

Verizon also released what it’s calling “version 1.0” of the technical specifications for the new network and the framework for certification, a process it said could take a month to complete.

Borrowing From the PC

The push is meant to leverage the work third-party entrepreneurs are doing to advance wireless technologies, said Anthony Lewis, vice president of open wireless development at Verizon. Citing examples such as cameras that send photos wirelessly, home security systems that use wireless as a backup to landline phones and in-car systems, Lewis urged developers to think big.

“Do you see the possibilities?” he asked the crowd during the event, which Verizon webcast on a developer’s site. “They are limited only by your imagination.”

In fact, Verizon Wireless CEO Lowell McAdam said Verizon hopes to borrow from the desktop PC experience, where third-party developers are churning out thousands of applications, services and plug-ins each year.

Not a Trend – Yet

Verizon will sell services on a retail basis, with customers using the Web to register and subscribe with their approved third-party device, as well as on a wholesale model, selling network access in bulk to third parties that want to attract customers with their own devices cleared for use on the network.

Verizon is seen requiring a bold move like the open initiative because its network supports relatively few devices compared to those of some rivals, such as AT&T. The network won’t be completely open and some devices, such as the Apple iPhone, are expected not to work on the open network for the time being. Verizon uses CDMA (code division multiple access) technology, which continues to hold a minority of the market worldwide that continues to be dominated by GSM (Global System for Mobile communications).

Despite a major push by some — notably Google — to create a more open wireless ecosystem, the move by Verizon is unlikely to draw similar efforts from rivals, telecom industry analyst Jeff Kagan told the E-Commerce Times. Traditionally, wireless carriers have protected their networks in a bid to preserve the billions they spend to locate towers and build out their coverage areas.

“This is a sign of a maturing industry, but I don’t see any need for competitors to jump in at this time,” Kagan said. “They will when they think the time is right. Not for competitive reasons.”

It’s also unlikely that Verizon’s initiative will dramatically alter the traditional relationships between carriers and customers, who typically buy their wireless devices from a carrier’s retail store and then get their services directly from that carrier for a set time.

“This makes a good headline but I don’t see it changing the way we buy cellular at this time,” Kagan added.

Flexible Approach

Verizon said it would do device testing at its own New Jersey laboratories or that device makers could use an approved third-party lab to do the testing. The testing is meant to ensure not only network compatibility but also whether devices meet requirements, such as the ability to access emergency 911 networks.

At least at first, devices will not be allowed to access some of Verizon’s premium services, such as music applications and messaging, though Chief Marketing Officer Mike Lanman said Verizon would be willing to discuss partnerships on those types of services as well. “We’re flexible about developing business relationships after launch,” he said, adding that a hybrid business model would likely be required in those cases.

Verizon may be moving quickly in a bid to call the shots for its own network, rather than resisting the push toward openness, an effort gaining momentum with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), which last year said it would require some of the wireless spectrum it auctioned off to be set aside for open networks that would work with all devices.

When Verizon first announced its plan, many observers cited Google’s push to create devices and applications that will work on all networks. By launching its own initiative, Verizon was able to retain control of how it was done, Forrester Research analyst Charles Golvin told the E-Commerce Times.

“If it resisted, it might have lost the ability to call the tune,” he said. “Now it can claim it’s leading the move toward openness but it still doesn’t have to give up its core business model of a closed network.”

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