Update: Verizon Wireless to open network access to other devices

'Any device, any application' option will be available over the Verizon network late next year, but iPhone not covered

Verizon Wireless announced today it will introduce an "any app, any device" option for customers in its nationwide network by the end of next year.

Verizon Wireless, which has been the staunchest opponent to open standards in filings before the Federal Communications Commission, said it will allow its customers by the end of 2008 to use wireless devices, software and applications not offered by the company. Currently, customers must use phones and applications and other software that only Verizon Wireless provides for its network.

A statement released this morning said the company plans to publish technical standards early next year for the development community to use to design products that will run on the Verizon Wireless network. Any device that meets the minimum technical standard will be activated on the network, the statement said.

The devices will be tested and approved in a lab that Verizon Wireless has provided with additional funding this year.

"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 the statement.

In a Web conference today, McAdam said the motivation for Verizon Wireless to allow open access on its CDMA network came from Verizon customers' requests for multiple business models, not only the devices and applications that Verizon Wireless provides.

In an indirect reference to the FCC's directive that the 700-MHz auction coming in January include a portion dedicated to open access, McAdam said the open devices and applications Verizon allows will apply to Verizon's entire spectrum and "not just a piece of the spectrum or a piece that might be available in 2011 or later, but on the whole network."

In response to a question, however, McAdam said the company wasn't motivated by pressure from the FCC or lawmakers on Capitol Hill. "What goes on on Capitol Hill or with the 700-MHz rules really doesn't play into this," McAdam said.

Verizon Wireless officials described a testing environment that will allow developers of virtually any device's operating system or application environment, including Java or BREW, to obtain a "reasonably" inexpensive and relatively simple network connectivity test. The developers don't need to be working for large companies, either, they said.

Dick Lynch, chief technology officer at Verizon Wireless, said the network tests conducted on devices and applications will protect against malware that could affect others on the network but will be network-level only and based on minimum standards.

"If somebody has the technical ability to build [a device] in a basement on a bread board and wants to bring it to us to be tested, the philosophy of this program says 'Have at it.' If it passes, we'll activate it on the network."

Even a developer of an application used by five people could be approved, because Verizon Wireless would run the application's traffic, officials said. Pricing will be usage based, meaning that a utility meter reading once a month could run on the network as well as a long-term video download, said John Stratton, chief marketing officer at Verizon Wireless.

The executives noted that the principal restrictions would be on network standards, meaning that today's iPhone sold in the U.S. over the AT&T EDGE network would not work over Verizon's CDMA network. "To be clear, [the device] has to be CDMA, so the iPhone wouldn't work as it exists today," McAdam said.

But McAdam noted that any CDMA phone, even those used on other carriers' networks, would be welcome.

And the variety of devices reaches well beyond wireless phones, McAdam said. "This isn't just phones. It could be a very small module in a gaming station and something in a home appliance or a car. It could be anything," he said. Even the portable reader the Kindle sold by Amazon Inc. over the Sprint Nextel network could use the Verizon network, the officials said.

Lynch said that current upgrades to EV-DO and future implementation to fourth-generation wireless at Verizon Wireless should provide the capacity that could be needed for bandwidth-hungry applications, including gaming.

Copyright © 2007 IDG Communications, Inc.

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