What "Any App, Any Device" Really Means
Nov 30, 2007, 3:01 PM by Eric M. Zeman
Phone Scoop took a few moments to speak with Verizon about its new open handset policy to get the real details.
Tuesday's announcement from Verizon Wireless certainly stirred up some excitement in the wireless world. While on the surface, the "any apps, any device" mantra seems like a really, really good thing, there are a few caveats. In order to fully understand how the new policy will work, we spoke to Verizon's Nancy Stark to gain some perspective.
Two Customer Subsets
First and foremost, Verizon will continue to operate its existing retail and business models unchanged. It calls this new policy an additive measure.
For customers looking to walk into a Verizon retail store to purchase a new handset with service contract, that option will always remain. Customers who choose this path will be considered full service customers, and they will have access to all of Verizon's phones, and services and applications that are optimized for those devices, 24/7 support and so on.
The other way to obtain Verizon service is to bring your own device to the table. Where you get this device is entirely up to you, as are the applications you choose to download to it. What Verizon will provide customers who want to use their own hardware and services is network access only. You will not be able to take a non-Verizon handset to a Verizon retail store and have it activated there. Verizon will set up a web site and/or 1-800 number for people to use to activate third party handsets. These customers will not have access to the same support that full service customers do. Verizon will not provide support for the handsets or the applications. That will be the user's responsibility. Verizon will only provide support for network access issues.
According to Verizon's Stark, Verizon will continue to work with its existing handset partners to possibly develop additional, non-Verizon handsets that can be activated on Verizon's network, but aren't officially sold by Verizon. Verizon will activate any phone that uses CDMA technology and meets a minimum set of technical standards. Stark said people can build their own phones as far as Verizon is concerned.
Stark also made clear that network access will not be limited to phones. "Don't limit your thinking to devices, handsets, smartphones and PDAs. With 4G, there is going to be all kinds of devices with wireless modules that can access the networks, such as gaming devices, refrigerators, all kinds of consumer electronics."
As it stands, Verizon will publish a set of technical standards sometime in the first quarter of 2008. These standards will be distributed to handset and software developers, who will be given the opportunity to comment on the standards before a final version of standards is published. Verizon expects this process to take up to June 30, 2008. It then hopes to be able to roll out the activation service between July 1 and the end of 2008.
Unless customers bring in a homemade device, Verizon will assume the responsibility for testing and certifying the non-Verizon phones. Verizon will develop a rolling list of devices that are compatible with its network. People interested in activating a non-Verizon phone need only check this list prior to using the web site or 1-800 number to activate the phone. Stark was unable to answer what customers should do if the device they are interested in using is not listed, but suggested that there would be a separate 1-800 number for people to call in these instances.
Customers will not have to pay to have devices certified.
Pricing, Billing, Services
Verizon will offer basic voice, messaging and data services in the form of mobile Web access via its 1xRTT and EVDO networks. Non-Verizon phones will not be able to access Get It Now, or other Verizon-specific software or services, such as the V CAST Music store or other V CAST services. Stark did say, however, that Verizon will have an on-going dialog with its developers to see if Verizon services can eventually be offered on non-Verizon phones. From the onset, users will be limited to using the basic features of the handset they choose. If the handset comes from Sprint, any services that are proprietary to Sprint's network will not work, either.
Ms. Stark made it clear that it is way too early to comment on any sort of pricing for the network access services on non-Verizon phones. But as with current Verizon full service customers, Verizon will make it as easy as possible for non-Verizon phone users to sign up for services and be billed. She said billing will be post-paid initially, with bills sent to subscribers via snail mail, the Internet, straight to their handsets or a credit card, or however a customer chooses. She said pricing will be "in line" with what full service customers pay. Verizon is still considering a pre-paid model, but has nothing in place yet.
Text messaging will be available, but Stark was unable to confirm if picture messaging will be available.
With respect to mobile web/data, Stark said now that Verizon has adopted a per-Megabyte charging system, a similar rate system will be used to charge non-Verizon phone users for the data they use. She said rates will be comparable to the rates offered full service customers. "The biggest governing factor in mobile data usage charges is the customer's willingness to pay," she said.
This will also extend to wireless data cards, such as those from Sierra Wireless or Nortel or others.
Security, Linux, Java
Verizon will retain the right to refuse certain devices from accessing its network. Anything that it deems harmful to the network or harmful to others will not be activated. The same goes for software. If it detects software that will harm its network or other users of its network, that software will not be allowed to access the network.
Verizon has not finalized any thoughts on the limits of Linux or Java. "This is a technical issue that we haven't sorted out yet," said Stark. "Right now we are committed to preventing our network from being harmed."
Sprint, Alltel Phones
Stark reiterated that unlocked Sprint phones may be activated on Verizon's network already, and this will not change. As long as the phone is unlocked and free of any contractual obligation to Sprint, it will have basic voice and messaging services available on Verizon's network. The same goes for phones from Alltel or any other CDMA provider.
On the flip side of the coin, Sprint is also going to allow non-Sprint phones to be activated on its network. We asked Sprint to comment on this matter, and it offered us this statement via email:
"Currently, every device that accesses the Sprint National Network must meet Sprint’s device standards and is subject to a device testing and certification process as a way of ensuring the highest service quality levels. We continually look for new ways to develop and expand the list of handsets that we allow on the Sprint National Network; however, we are careful to balance the desire for increased device access with ensuring an optimal user experience, network and brand integrity and protecting our customers’ privacy and security.
Through relationships with third parties, dozens of non-Sprint branded services operate on our network – our most recent announcement was Amazon’s Kindle. Of course these devices are subject to a device testing and certification process as a way of ensuring the highest service quality levels."
Verizon's Stark offered this in conclusion: "What we have announced the other day is obviously a concept. There are a lot of details that still to be worked out over the next few moths, We want to get information from developers, publish technical standards, and we want to hear input. Nothing is going to be finalized until we have all this input."
Stark reiterated that this is something Verizon has been thinking about for a long time. Because it has been testing various 4G platforms, Verizon knew it needed to evolve its business and that this was coming. "We know there are people out there who want to use Verizon's network, but not necessarily the devices or applications that we offer. These are customers who have their own stuff and want a second choice. These two worlds have been converging for a long time. With 4G on the horizon, we want to be able to meet the needs of our customers." The open handset policy will not only be used for Verizon's existing CDMA network, but will also extend to its future 4G network as well.
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