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11/27/2007
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Open Verizon On The Horizon: A 'Domino Effect'

The carrier's move could result in an ecosystem of specialized devices that use the network to serve different types of mobile users, analysts suggest.

Verizon Wireless' decision to publish technical standards next year that will allow software developers to design products that interface with the carrier's network could result in an ecosystem of specialized devices that use the network to serve different types of mobile users: consumers, businesses, the government, and the home.

Once considered to be one of the strictest gatekeepers of its wireless network, Verizon Wireless is now setting an example for other carriers to open their networks to outside mobile devices, software, and applications.

"This development will begin the domino effect. Verizon Wireless has historically been the most protective. If they can reach a point of security by allowing any device or application on their network, the other carriers can as well," said Ross Rubin, an analyst at research firm NPD Group, in an interview.

With technical specifications in hand, manufacturers such as Sony Ericsson, Samsung, and LG Electronics can add the necessary capabilities to their phones, allowing them to work on Verizon Wireless' CDMA network. The basic certification of these phones will ensure that they don't pose a threat to the network or interfere with existing services.

The other opportunity will be for smaller companies to roll out new products that won't be mass produced in thousands, but instead will be targeted at early adopters. One area these companies can tap into is social networking. For example, smaller manufacturers can team up with popular social networking communities such as Facebook and MySpace to offer a tailored mobile device for younger consumers, said Rubin.

Verizon Wireless, at least initially, didn't put restrictions on the types of devices it will allow. In fact, the carrier promised to allow "any device." This means business travelers could get more options for wireless access via their laptops. Manufacturers will be able to do more with portable consumer electronics devices, while the government will be able to connect any device to the network for various purposes, such as meter reading.

With Amazon.com launching an e-book reader, called Kindle, with EVDO access for wirelessly downloading digital content, and future phones planned based on Google's Android mobile software development platform, there's even more reason to consider Verizon Wireless' move as a significant development.

However, industry experts already are cautioning about Verizon Wireless' next moves: "The question, of course, is implementation. Will Verizon's testing requirements, for example, create a network that is open in name but closed in practice?" said Tim Wu, a professor at Columbia University School of Law, who has studied the issue. The answer to that question won't come until next year.

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