Verizon's Open Development Initiative? So Far It's A Joke



Late in 2007, Verizon made a big deal about "opening up" their wireless network. The announcement got a huge amount of kudos from the press, the news wires filling with talk about how Verizon had turned a corner and embraced the new, open wireless paradigm (either voluntarily or by force). In reality, Verizon Wireless executives were never going to fully embrace being a "dumb pipe" provider, but for some reason, they were given the benefit of the doubt.

We will allow customers to connect any device that meets our minimum technical standards, and be activated on our network.

We do not expect this to be a difficult or lengthy process, since we will only be testing network connectivity.

-Verizon Wireless CEO Lowell McAdam in 2007
It's now 2009, and Verizon's open access initiative is by and large a no show. Verizon Wireless says they've certified 29 wireless devices that can run on its network sold by independent vendors, but none of them are consumer devices, and many aren't commercially available. Sure, it's great that the nation's prison system can connect the "Behavioral Intervention offender tracking wireless anklet" to Verizon's EVDO network, but that's not exactly what people had in mind.

"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 Verizon Wireless CEO Lowell McAdam in a 2007 press release.

"We will allow customers to connect any device that meets our minimum technical standards, and be activated on our network," said McAdam. "We do not expect this to be a difficult or lengthy process, since we will only be testing network connectivity." Did we mention that was late 2007?

Buried in McAdam's comments was his statement that "Verizon Wireless is not changing our successful retail model," but rather "adding an additional retail option for customers looking for a different wireless experience." In other words, Verizon was always planning to keep their primary focus on crippled handsets, while making freedom and choice a luxury tier -- probably with costly metered billing.

But even that's yet to materialize.

For now, the best we're getting is glacial progress and lip service. For those not impressed by EVDO-capable prison anklets, Verizon attempted to wow attendees at CES by announcing they might, sometime, be making their EVDO network open to competitors of the Amazon Kindle. Tony Lewis, who's in charge of Verizon's certification system, did note this week that real consumer devices (like oh, smartphones) are taking longer than expected:

Lewis said consumer electronics devices were taking longer to get to the certification stage because they tended to include multiple features and as a result were more complicated than single-purpose data devices such as trackers.
Sure, shaking off decades of telco-think, creating a functional testing process, testing devices and opening the network takes time. But you get the distinct impression Verizon Wireless is stalling, terrified of the monsters (mobile VoIP, non-Verizon content) on the other side of the open network door. What wireless industry exec would be in a hurry to cannibalize revenues made from services like SMS/MMS, ringtones, media and voice?

Here's a crazy theory: Verizon's Open Development Initiative is 90% public relations, designed to stall change, not usher it forward.

Here's a crazy theory: Verizon's Open Development Initiative is 90% public relations, designed to stall change, not usher it forward.

When regulators (and Google) began pressuring Verizon in 2007 about truly opening up their networks during the 700Mhz spectrum disputes, Verizon took an existing plan to open their EVDO network up to the industrial sector, and dressed it up as revolutionary. The un-critical technology press helped sell it.

The resulting stage show got regulators off of Verizon's back, while providing oodles of positive press lauding Verizon for being a progressive company, despite them never having accomplished anything of note. We've yet to see a third party truly open smartphone released under this program. More importantly, -- we've yet to see the bandwidth pricing model or the restrictions Verizon is planning to apply to it.

Yes, it's probably inevitable that Verizon is going to have to truly open up their network fully. But for now, open access absolutely terrifies mobile carriers, who see it as utterly apocalyptic. When it comes to truly allowing any device and application on their mobile networks, these carriers will have to be dragged, kicking and screaming.
read comment(s)

by Ben Pike