Verizon Wireless announced today that they are opening up their network.
Verizon Wireless today announced that it will provide customers the option to use, on its nationwide wireless network, wireless devices, software and applications not offered by the company. Verizon Wireless plans to have this new choice available to customers throughout the country by the end of 2008.
I suppose many would like to think that this is PR move or a reaction to Google's recent announcements (e.g., Android, 700 MHz) or Sprint's (Xohm), but it has likely been in the works for a long time as these things often are. The GSM operators are a bit more open already in that you can bring your own device to their network. Sprint announced (ok, build plans could be on hold and a lot of uncertainty here) their open network. This left Verizon among the largest players here in the US. I think it's less of a reaction and more of an acknowledgement of the inevitable. It's better to manage change than to react to it once it's too late.
The "move" should position them better for future growth. With most adults having cell phones and many kids getting them at ever younger ages, future growth will be driven by people having two, three, four or more devices connected to a network. Even without counting Wi-Fi radios, the percentage of people with more than one device with a cellular connection is growing year over year. My brother carries two identical Blackberries because his employer wants him to have one, but won't let him make personal calls or get personal email either on his handheld or work computer. He needs a handheld device to get email during the day. There seem to be more and more of these scenarios.
We're likely to see more devices like Apple's iPhone or Nokia's 810 – higher end devices that aren't cell phones (ok, Apple's is – but it's optimized more for media and data than voice currently), but need a wireless connection. Ubiquitous connections beat out local service for convenience so cellular makes sense. Device manufacturers are less likely to need carrier deals going forward to roll out new devices. It also gives Verizon (and the others with open networks) the ability to hedge their bets regarding integrated devices. There are many who think there will be one Swiss-Army-esque cell phone that does everything and people will only carry one device. We don't think that's true. There will be more adoption of integrated devices as the experience gets better, but that doesn't mean that devices optimized for a single purpose won't also have their place. Why do I have to have a camera in my phone? Why can't I have a connection in my camera?
More details to come in 2008 as they deploy. Will be interesting to watch the reaction of the developer community and the CE companies – to see what their level of interest is.
Verizon has always been one of the more closed networks in the interest of controlling the experience – to provide a high quality experience to their customers. Hopefully the lab testing will be enough to maintain their reputation. They are also likely confident of their ability to maintain ownership of most customers – otherwise, they wouldn't open up their network to become a simply pipe to other services.