Wireless carriers are famous for controlling the devices and software that they allow on their networks. Apple’s iPhone, for example, is locked for use on AT&T’s network only. But one carrier is set to adopt a much more open approach to wireless access.
Verizon Wireless is taking the first tentative steps toward a more open cellular network. In March, the company paid $9.63 billion for the right to use wireless frequencies that will become free when analogue television transmissions end in 2009 (the so-called C block operating at 700 megahertz). The 108 licenses bought by Verizon were sold on the condition that the network would be made open to any device, not just those offered by the network operator. But even before Verizon won access to the C block, it had committed itself to opening up parts of its wireless network.
Last week, Verizon’s vice president of open development, Tony Lewis, spoke at the Mobile Internet World conference, in Boston, and detailed the company’s plans for a more open wireless network. The company has ambitious plans to enable a new generation of mobile device. However, it clearly wants to open the network on its own terms and will require that devices are certified before they can connect. “When you look at what ‘open’ is, there is not a clear definition,” Lewis says. “That’s what’s most important to me. I want to write the definition of what it means to be open, and so, if I’m successful in this business, I will do just that.”
Lewis says that Verizon will launch a scheme for certifying other companies’ devices that will work in parallel with its own development and verification scheme. In addition to cell phones, Lewis expects to see an explosion of devices that connect to cellular networks, such as industrial machinery and home appliances. Since cellular phones are owned by nearly every adult in the United States, he thinks that the way to make the open network grow is by focusing on new types of devices.
“It’s about connecting any- and everything that could be connected,” Lewis said at the conference. He talked about home health monitors that might track, for example, whether an elderly person is taking medicine at prescribed intervals and then notify family members via the wireless network if a dose is missed. He also talked about home appliances that would automatically send for a repair person if a key part fails, or order new supplies, such as groceries, when they run out.