Verizon Wireless Opens Network To Other Phones

Verizon Wireless Tuesday said it will offer customers a broader choice in devices as it plans next year to open its network to mobile phones and other hardware not sold by the carrier.

Customers will be able to use any software or application on any approved device on its nationwide wireless network by the end of 2008, the Basking Ridge, N.J.-based service provider said in a statement.

It's an approach that could help stimulate tremendous revenue opportunities for solution providers working with technologies such as unified communications and fixed-mobile convergence (FMC), said Jeff Hiebert, CEO of ROI Networks, a solution provider in San Juan Capistrano, Calif.

"This blurring of the line between land-based and wireless networks, SIP interoperability and FMC is white-hot. Asia and Europe are way ahead of the U.S. in delivering a workable solution, so for Verizon to make that kind of bold statement, that's huge," Hiebert said. "We're going to be reselling hardware and software that leverages the capabilities of these networks," he added.

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Verizon Wireless plans early next year to publish technical standards that developers will have to adhere to in order for their devices to operate on its network. The company will test and approve devices in its $20 million testing lab and will activate any device that meets the minimum technical standard for use on the network. Customers will be able to use any applications they want on those approved devices, the company said.

"This is a transformation point in the 20-year history of mass market wireless devices -- one which we believe will set the table for the next level of innovation and growth," said Lowell McAdam, president and CEO of Verizon Wireless, in the statement.

Verizon Wireless will continue to offer phones and other devices but is opening the door for customers that put more value on choice than low-cost phones.

The strategy marks a digression from the cellular industry's status quo, which commonly focuses on locked handsets that trade customer choice for price subsidies from the carriers. It's certainly an about-face for Verizon Wireless, which is seen as one of most restrictive networks in the country.

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In September, it went as far as challenging the Federal Communications Commission in court over open-access rules the FCC implemented for some of the 700 MHz spectrum being auctioned off early next year, a suit it dropped last month.

The strategy shift also comes about three weeks after Google unveiled its intentions to push open mobile platforms with its new Android Linux-based device operating system and its Open Handset Alliance, a conglomeration of over 30 companies that hope to develop lower cost, open mobile devices.

Google has said it expects handsets and services built on its platform to hit the market in the second half of 2008.

Verizon Wireless's strategy to open its network is a positive move that could help it generate revenue from devices it doesn't currently sell, such as Internet tablets, PCs and other portable devices, said Jack Gold, founder and principal analyst at J. Gold Associates.

"There is no reason for them to turn away customers if they can sign them up," Gold said via e-mail.

He noted, however, that it is unclear how many manufacturers of such devices will add in support for CDMA/EVDO standards Verizon Wireless champions on its network vs. the GSM/UMTS/HSDPA technology path more commonly used by wireless carriers.