Friday, March 28, 2008

USA - Verizon open access

Verizon Wireless reveals open-network strategy

VZW appears to be taking all comers, but pricing is still a question

Verizon Wireless kicked off its developer program in New York today, revealing the first details of just how open-access will work on CDMA network. Verizon will maintain control over pricing plans for third -- party services and devices on its networks, but it appears surprisingly willing to give outsiders access to key elements of the network.

VZW executives outlined flexible plans for the introduction of outside devices and applications onto its network, some working in concert with existing Verizon Wireless pricing plans and services and others allowing a new service provider essentially to buy wholesale access to the network. All of these new devices and services will be the sole responsibility of the companies bringing them to market--they'll be in charge of their own retailing, distribution and marketing--but they can choose to work closely within the Verizon service structure or venture out on their own. Verizon will even give developers access to some of its more closely held network functions, such as GPS, MMS, SMS and even its VCast portal content, if the two parties can negotiate specific revenue-sharing deals.

As for the device specs themselves, Verizon is releasing them at the conference today and allowing developers to sign up for its program at the conference (for details on the program, see VZW's open development site). The most firm requirement is that any device accessing the voice network must have the FCC's E911 protocols embedded, allowing for emergency calling. This may make it hard for foreign vendors to try to simply port their devices onto the Verizon network. But for non-voice devices, VZW left the door open to almost any scenario: portable gaming consoles, connected vending machines, handheld credit card readers, and standalone digital music players.

CDMA Development Group executive director Perry LaForge, who spoke at the conference, said that the technical specs were very similar to the ones the CDG uses to approve new handsets and devices. In fact, Verizon's documentation draws heavily from the CDG's guidelines as well as that of standards bodies like the 3GPP2. The fact that VZW is using the same specs that most of the world's CDMA vendors are already using to design their products is encouraging since it places no additional restrictions on device makers beyond what they're accustomed to, LaForge said.

"People have asked me if this is the real deal, whether Verizon is just paying lip service to the idea of open access," LaForge said. "We think they realize it's in their best interests to open up as much as possible. They're really pushing it. I think they're serious."

The only question Verizon left open was that of pricing, both for certifying a device and the minute and data plans the devices would use. Verizon said that it expects that it will receive many new gadgets to certify and would charge a fee to defray the testing costs. As for the plans, if a device doesn't latch neatly onto one of the existing VZW voice and data packages, the service provider or device maker will have to negotiate a plan with Verizon. Whatever those negotiations may entail, it's unlikely that Verizon will give unlimited data access to its networks. It caps its own data plans to prevent individual users from hogging bandwidth with high-capacity applications like Slingbox, so it probably won't extend such privileges to a third party. It's also unclear whether Verizon could outright ban these offending applications from the network--something that might be very difficult to do, especially if these devices contain open operating systems such as Google's forthcoming Android.

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