Verizon's Open-Door Policy: What It Actually Means

Verizon Wireless just pulled back the curtain on its Open Development "Any App, Any Device" initiative, but the conference itself was developer oriented and heavy on the jargon. Here we boil it down to what really matters:

Can I port a phone from Sprint?

Will I finally get to download third-party apps?

What new powers do developers have?

Why the hell is Verizon doing this?

All that and more in plain English. So if you want to know why you should care that Verizon is finally opening its infamously tight-assed but superior network, well, here you go...

1) Can I move my old Sprint or Helio phone—or get really crazy and bring a Korean CDMA phone—over to Verizon Wireless?

Sure, as long as they run on the same CDMA frequencies as Verizon's network—800 and 1900MHz, are the North American CDMA bands. After Verizon certifies a submitted model of handset or PDA, all you'll have to do is register it on Verizon's website (a process similar to iPhone registration). So porting your beloved Ocean or Mogul should be no problem.

Better yet, you'll be able to buy third-party stuff outside of Verizon stores and still get service: a lot of major players are extremely interested in the open network, including Toshiba, Ericsson, HP and Motorola among others. The whole thing starts in the "second half" of the year—hopefully sooner than December.

2) What can developers do now that they couldn't do before?

Developers can build devices and applications that run on Verizon's network without going through most of Verizon's red tape. As David McCarley, executive director of technology, said, "Anything that can take advantage of an IP address is in play." The specs for open devices are basically just industry standards with a few "Verizon supplements."

Though it's going to be hard for a dude in his garage to build the next wunderphone, a small company with mobile knowhow can develop and get their iPhone-killer certified and on Verizon's network with minimal interference. For a developer, certification takes four weeks, followed by four weeks of testing for a "best practices" sticker. Eight weeks is not very long.

3) What's the deal with applications? Is it really going to be "anything goes"?

Pretty much. Tony Lewis, VP of open development, told us, "We're not restricting any applications because we're not looking at them." That includes VoIP and P2P. Of course, he adds, Verizon is "always going to protect the network, so if something is a hog, we're gonna know the device is doing something." They won't look at packets, perhaps, but they'll count 'em.

Contrary to speculation, open devices won't be running in their own sandbox in the network—they'll be on the same ballfield as Verizon's own devices. So you really can run any app, but if you start crashing someone else's party, they're going to shut your shit down.

4) What's in all this free love for Verizon?

Tony Melone, Verizon's chief technical officer, told us that the open development platform is going to be a "substantial part of our business." But why? "We talk about a concept like Intel Inside. We want something like 'Verizon Wireless inside.'" They want to see people building devices that simply work with Verizon's network, and are labeled as such, the way today gadgets are identified as being compatible with Wi-Fi routers. The difference is, Verizon intends to be everywhere. And of course it will cost money to hop on. All of this openness means heavy subscription fees, naturally.

5) What about new networks, like the upcoming 4G network called LTE?

You might recall a small hullabaloo over Verizon's announcement that its 4G network was going to be LTE, which is a GSM-based network like AT&T's, and also like Verizon's European co-owner Vodafone. Melone says they chose LTE because "really believe LTE is going to be the VHS of 4G technologies." (Glad to see someone learning from all these format wars.)

Verizon's current CDMA and EV-DO network will stick around for quite a while as you might expect, even after Verizon achieves "significant penetration" with LTE in mid-2010, so there will actually be multiple networks. Devices developed with today's CDMA/EV-DO specs won't be dumped after Verizon makes the move to newer, faster hotness. And of course, the open policy will go for the fast LTE network as well.

6) Is this all really BS, or does it put Verizon on par or even ahead of the GSM carriers?

The move to opening the network is pretty genuine as far as we can tell in this preliminary stage. Of course, the pudding might taste different when it hits our plates, but we don't think they'll deviate too far from the recipe they're touting.

After all, GSM operators like AT&T and T-Mobile have always had a degree of openness. Verizon is in a way just catching up. When we ask how this is better than GSM, the standard reply is that Verizon's network is, technically speaking, more awesomer. There could be additional differences down the line, though, because Verizon is pushing open development in a huge way, and putting up an impressive amount of resources up to make it happen. Expect the same "openness" talk from AT&T in the coming weeks, however. Not so much out of the goodness of their hearts—this is just what it takes to survive in the new mobile world. [Verizon Wireless]