Verizon to offer 'network only' service choice

Verizon Wireless today announced plans to begin bringing down the walls around its network by opening it to any compatible device running any applications.

The company plans to release technical standards for connecting to the network early next year and expects to begin offering the new option to customers by the second half of 2008.

'We will allow customers to connect any device that meets minimal technical standards,' said President and Chief Executive Officer Lowell McAdam.

The decision is a big step toward a form of network neutrality. Presently, major wireless carriers limit their networks to devices and applications offered by the carrier. Verizon Wireless will continue to offer this full-service option and expects most of its customers will continue using it for the foreseeable future. But the company was driven to add the new model by market demand and the accelerating pace of technical innovation.

McAdam called the current intersection of wireless communications and Internet services a 'critical junction' for network providers.

'We have been looking at this for a very long time,' he said. 'The global development community is bringing devices and applications to the carriers in the wireless market place,' forcing carriers to bet on which ones to adopt and offer. But as development speeds up customers are demanding a wider selection than carriers can offer. 'Soon Verizon will not be able to meet every customer's needs with our portfolio. We decided to encourage the development of new devices and applications by opening the network.'

There will be technical limits. Verizon Wireless operates a Code Division Multiple Access network, so only devices using the CDMA standard will be able to use it. But beyond that, the new option will be available across the company's entire spectrum, nationwide. As the company updates to fourth-generation wireless technology, whatever technology is adopted will be included in the network-only service option. 'What that technology will be has not been decided,' said Verizon Wireless Chief Technology Officer Dick Lynch.

'As we go to fourth generation, we have yet to make the technical decision,' Lynch said.

Verizon's move is not related to Google's Android initiative to develop an open wireless platform, but devices built on the Android platform will be welcome, as long as they can use the CDMA network. Apple's popular iPhone, currently offered only by AT&T, uses the Global System for Mobile communications standard, as well as offering Bluetooth and WiFi connectivity. Hackers have managed to unlock the phone so it can be used with any GSM service, but it does not use CDMA and unlocked iPhones cannot operate on the current Verizon Wireless network. If and when a compatible iPhone appears, it too will be welcome, Lynch said.

The service will not be limited to phones or other traditional wireless devices. Possible applications could range from digital cameras and online gaming devices to onboard electronics in cars. Because the initial customer base for the new service is expected to be relatively small, network capacity is not expected to be a problem, Lynch said. But as traffic grows, the network will be expanded and upgraded to provide needed bandwidth. To date the company has made no changes in its network in anticipation of the new service offering.

Devices using the network will have to be certified by Verizon's testing lab, which will test only for network connectivity.

'After that, what the device looks like, what the user interface looks like, what applications go on it is up to the provider of the device,' McAdam said.

The company plans to host a developers' conference early next year after release of technical standards to facilitate design of devices that will be able to access the network.

Conformance testing will be the responsibility of the device provider, as will customer support for the hardware and software. Verizon Wireless does not see certification testing in its lab as a profit center in the new business model, Lynch said.

'I think it's going to be surprisingly reasonable,' he said of the cost of testing. There won't be 'many zeroes on the back.'

The pricing for the service has not been determined, but Lynch said the company intends to make it competitive and he expects it will be based on usage.

About the Author

William Jackson is a Maryland-based freelance writer.


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