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11/29/2007
10:39 AM
Stephen Wellman
Stephen Wellman
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Will Open Networks Force Apple To Unlock The iPhone?

Almost milliseconds after Verizon Wireless said it will open its networks to outside devices starting next year, I was swarmed with e-mails asking me if the iPhone would soon be able to run on Verizon's network. At first, I said no. EDGE phones don't run on CDMA networks. Then, I thought through the question again.

Almost milliseconds after Verizon Wireless said it will open its networks to outside devices starting next year, I was swarmed with e-mails asking me if the iPhone would soon be able to run on Verizon's network. At first, I said no. EDGE phones don't run on CDMA networks. Then, I thought through the question again.I wasn't the only one to come up with this reactionary answer to the question. Dan Jones over at Unstrung also dismissed the possibility of a CDMA iPhone as quickly as I did. So much for that, right?

But then I began thinking: Now that Verizon Wireless, traditionally the most closed of all wireless carriers, has decided to open its network to outside devices and applications and to embrace LTE, the 4G standard for GSM, as its own 4G technology why should Apple maintain its exclusivity agreement with AT&T? Why not fully unlock the iPhone and turn it into what everyone always wanted: a mini-Mac?

During my conversation with technologist Mark Anderson this week, we addressed the issue of world phones -- phones that run on both GSM and CDMA networks. Mark pointed out that world phones are already here. Assuming the rest of the U.S. carriers follow Verizon's lead and open their networks, we could soon see a world where Apple can make a world 3G iPhone that can run on any carrier network in the U.S. At the rate things are going, this world could be a reality by this time next year.

BlackBerry already has a world phone, why not a global, unlocked iPhone?

Apple has nothing to gain from its exclusivity agreement with AT&T. To be candid, the wireless industry today looks radically different than it did when Apple first announced the iPhone at the beginning of the year. Thanks to Google's Android initiative, the potential of Google's participation in the upcoming spectrum auction, Verizon's move to a more open network, and today's news that Verizon will use LTE, the stage is set for an unlocked iPhone for the U.S. market and for the rest of the world too.

And let's look at the iPhone's debut in Europe. Apple has been forced to open the device in France as may be forced to open up in the U.K. as well.

And let's not forget about the iPhone hackers. It's obvious from the amount of ad-hoc unlocking that Apple fans also want the iPhone to be open and unlocked.

The writing is on the wall. The future iPhone should be 3G, run outside applications, work on both CDMA and GSM networks, and be fully unlocked.

What do you think? Will Apple pay AT&T to get out of its agreement and then make the iPhone a globally unlocked device that can run on any wireless network?

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