Update: Verizon may end up creating a two-tiered network instead of an open one. Read more here.
In what is either a response to Google’s Android mobile operating system or an attempt to butter up the FCC for the upcoming 700 Mhz spectrum auctions or just a smart business move, Verizon Wireless is opening up its cellular network to any device or application that meets the “minimal technical standard” to run on its network. That means pretty much any CDMA device or application, even ones that are not officially offered by Verizon. The devices and apps will have to be tested and certified in a new $20 million Verizon lab being set up for that purpose, but by early next year if you don’t like the phones that Verizon sells, you will be able to bring your own unlocked CDMA phone to the network—maybe one you bought from Sprint or overseas.
This move could help Verizon in its bid for the upcoming 700 MHz spectrum auction, which will require that any winners allow open access to devices and applications on any resulting wireless network. By adopting those same principles for its current network, Verizon is showing a lot of good faith that could win it points in Washington. Maybe the other wireless carriers (AT&T, Sprint Nextel, T-Mobile) will feel compelled to do the same. That would be good for consumers, entrepreneurs, and innovation. The wireless networks should be more like the Internet. Any device or app should be able to run on any wireless network, as long as it meets a minimal set of technical and security requirements.
When Google was trying to gear up support for its open-source mobile operating system Android, Verizon was one of the companies Google was rumored to be talking with, but did not end up being part of the Open Handset Alliance (which included T-Mobile and Sprint Nextel). Verizon may still join the Open Handset Alliance in its own sweet time, but this move suggests that it would rather compete by trying to attract mobile developers to its own network. Verizon is not embracing an open-source approach (which is probably why Microsoft is all gung-ho about the announcement), but it will give mobile developers access to its vast network and 64 million subscribers. You didn’t think Verizon was just going to let Google waltz right in and take its customers for a spin, did you? But if Verizon doesn’t make it easy for developers and unaffiliated device manufacturers to get onto its network, it could end up tripping over its own feet.