WASHINGTON--Just a few months ago, Verizon Wireless was protesting "open access" rules requiring mobile operators to let their customers use whatever devices or applications they please.
Now it's inviting gadget developers to swap ideas at a two-day conference in New York City, scheduled for March 19 and 20.
It's all part of the company's new Open Development Initiative, which was unveiled after Thanksgiving. Seemingly in a nod both to regulatory pressure and movement by companies like Google in the mobile space, the No. 2 wireless carrier said it had decided to open up its network to device and application developers--with what it portrays as few limits.
"All I want to make sure is that the device actually works on the network," said Verizon Wireless Vice President Tony Lewis, the newly promoted head of the project, who spoke Tuesday afternoon at a panel discussion here on Capitol Hill hosted by the New America Foundation. The subtext for the event was whether further regulations are needed to open up wireless networks.
Sure, the ability to transport phones from one carrier to another is great, but let's face it: Verizon Wireless is apparently hoping the process might spark an iPhone killer.
"We've been hearing today about another phone, another PC, in fact," Lewis said in reference to the popular Apple product. "What I want to see are the newer devices, the nontraditional devices. That is what will fascinate me."
To get there, he said, "we want to be sure we're working with developers large and small for the greatest ideas out there."
Lewis said his goal is to allow Verizon customers to bring in new devices by the end of 2008, although he emphasized that the company has no plans to scale back its regular retail-store offerings in the process.
AT&T: We're open, too
AT&T Vice President Bob Quinn, who was seated beside Lewis at Tuesday's event, wasn't content to let another carrier steal the spotlight. Quinn offered a pitch for what he described as longstanding "open" policies. He touted AT&T's willingness to sell customers phones without contracts--at a price, of course--and to allow unlocked phones not offered at its stores onto its network. He even boasted that "if you choose to go down that path where you're paying for an unsubsidized device with no commitment, we'll unlock the phone for you" so it'll work on other GSM carriers' networks.
That remark prompted a near-brawl with Wall Street Journal personal technology columnist and unabashed iPhone idolizer Walt Mossberg, who also participated in Tuesday's panel. Mossberg interrupted Quinn to ask why that didn't apply to his gadget. The AT&T lobbyist acknowledged that the iPhone was an exception before snapping, "How about if I get to finish my remarks?"
For the record, the panel discussion was already behind schedule, so the topic didn't come up again.