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Verizon Shocks Wireless World By Promising To Open Its Network

Verizon Wireless plans to publish technical standards next year that software developers can use to design products that will interface with the carrier's network.

Verizon Wireless shocked the U.S. wireless industry on Tuesday, announcing that starting next year it will open up its nationwide network to mobile devices, software, and applications not offered by the carrier.

Verizon Wireless plans to publish technical standards next year that software developers can use to design products that will interface with the carrier's network. Mobile devices that meet the minimum technical standard will be activated on the network. Details of the standards will be disclosed at a later date, the company said.

The carrier has set up a $20-million testing lab where mobile devices will be tested and approved. It also hopes to get input from developers about running outside devices on its network and the impact they might have on network performance.

For the first time, wireless customers will be able to download any software or application on their mobile devices and use the devices in ways that weren't previously allowed by Verizon Wireless. The carrier said it will not change its sales model, but instead will offer customers additional options.

"This is a transformation point in the 20-year history of mass market wireless devices -- one which we believe will set the table for the next level of innovation and growth," said Lowell McAdam, Verizon Wireless' president and chief executive officer, in a statement.

Once the change goes into effect, Verizon Wireless will have two categories of customers: full-service customers -- those that purchase devices and services from Verizon Wireless and receive technical support, and bring-your-own customers -- those that will bring their own devices to the carrier's network without full service.

Verizon Wireless and other U.S. wireless carriers have long been pressured by customers, third-party developers, and the Federal Communications Commission to open up their networks to outside devices and applications. Other pressures came from Europe and Asia, where carriers offer a lot more freedom to their customers. One example is T-Mobile selling an unlocked iPhone in Germany without a contract.

Most recently, Google announced the Android mobile-phone software development platform, which is based on the Linux 2.6 kernel and includes an operating system, a set of libraries, a multimedia user interface, and phone applications. Android is open and available to third-party developers.

If the other major wireless carriers, including AT&T, Sprint, and T-Mobile, follow in Verizon Wireless' footsteps, Android and similar open mobile platforms have a greater chance of succeeding in the U.S. There are signs that carriers are interested in supporting open platforms. T-Mobile and Sprint have already signed on as carrier partners for Google's Android alliance, and it's been reported that AT&T is in talks to do the same.

On a grander scale, this could significantly change the way the wireless industry operates in the U.S., putting many innovative devices in the hands of mobile users with features that were previously excluded or restricted by carriers.

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