July 16, 2007 4:00 AM PDT

Unlock the cell phone? It's a high-stakes debate

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It's still unclear whether Congress intends to doing anything to force operators to allow any device to connect to their networks or to permit people to add third-party software to their handsets. While Congress was responsible for forcing wireless operators in 2003 to allow people to take their phone numbers with them when they switched providers, no legislation has been proposed that would ask operators to do the same for handsets.

Still, many advocacy groups are pushing Congress to apply rules established as part of the 1968 Carterfone decision, which allowed non-AT&T telephones to be connected to the regular phone network. Skype has already petitioned the FCC to loosen its rules on what devices and applications can be used on a carrier network citing the Carterfone decision.

Right now, the best bet for moving the issue forward is getting the FCC to include special provisions in rules for the upcoming spectrum auction that could require some form of "open access."

The chairman of the FCC, Kevin Martin, is already advocating for open access when it comes to devices. Earlier this week, he circulated a proposal of rules for the auction that would require winners of some 700MHz spectrum licenses to let any device connect to their networks so long as they are safe and do no harm to the network.

Consumer advocates and technology groups, such as the Wireless Founders Coalition for Innovation, applauded Martin for moving in this direction. But they say his proposal, which few people have actually seen so far, falls short of guaranteeing true open access. For one, critics say Martin has said little about requiring winners of these special spectrum licenses to offer open networks for wholesale use.

"What Chairman Martin proposes is a protection for consumers, and we think that's great," said Art Brodsky, communications director for the advocacy group Public Knowledge. "But the bigger issue is ensuring that we create an environment where there is more competition through an open-access network, which could eventually pressure cell phone operators to open up the rest of their networks."

Offering an open, wholesale network allows companies that may not be able to afford to build their own network or may not want to invest the capital on a new network the opportunity to sell service or develop new wireless applications.

On Monday, Google's telecom lawyer, Richard Whitt, said in a blog post that Google hasn't ruled out bidding on spectrum. But sources close to the company say Google's primary interest in the 700MHz auction rules isn't necessarily laying the groundwork for its own bid, but encouraging other companies to bid on the licenses, so that after the network is built Google can eventually rent capacity on a wholesale basis.

Why? The reason is simple. Google is not a communications service provider. It's an Internet company. Under its current business model, Google doesn't need to own the underlying pipes it uses to deliver search, Internet voice, e-mail or mapping services to broadband consumers, just like HBO doesn't need to own the cable infrastructure to offer viewers Entourage. Theoretically, Google shouldn't have to own the wireless infrastructure to deliver any of these services to mobile users either.

In a letter sent to the FCC last week, Google said the FCC should consider including four "open access" provisions in its rules, including one that would require licensees of the spectrum to also offer access to their networks on a wholesale basis at "reasonably nondiscriminatory commercial terms."

Without the wholesaling provision, consumer advocates and technology entrepreneurs say simply requiring operators to allow devices onto this new sliver of spectrum won't have much impact. For one, if an existing wireless carrier wins these spectrum licenses, the company would only be required to allow open access for that sliver of spectrum. The rest of the service, which uses other spectrum, wouldn't have to adhere to the requirement.

Instead, critics say the only way to force change in the market is to make sure that any company can access an open nationwide broadband network to deliver competitive services.

"If we establish an open network that allows new competitors to play around with offering unrestricted handsets, then the market will decide whether or not that is something consumers really want," Txtbl's Sarva said. "If we create this playground of innovation, we won't have to legislate new regulations, because the phone companies will be forced to change due to competition."

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Why isn't Verizon Wireless Screaming
The answer is quite simple: They are going to get access (need to win auction) to a major slice of the spectrum in the premium Upper Bands of the 700Mhz Spectrum for their own Walled Garden-Same same.
The only hope here is that Google steps up and commits their deep pockets to guarantee that a partner of theirs gets a Nationwide slice of the Upper Bands. They need this in order to finalize their plans for access to and control of the Last Mile, only piece they are missing today.
The Lower Band Martin is freeing up to "Open Access" is very congested and there are serious concerns that it will not be conducive to 2 Way Communications.
Would like to hear from a Radio Vendor on the capability for 2 way Comm. in these bands.

Also, where does the Public Safety piece come out of, the Upper or Lower Band space??

Posted by jacomo (115 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Dog, hamburger
This reminds me of something one of my colleagues said a while ago - "a dog with a hamburger it its mouth isn't going to give it up unless you bop him one on the head."

ATT and Verizon are coming up with noble and scary sounding excuses to get "another hamburger" without other dogs competing. If they succeed, we'll be in their so called walled garden for another generation or two, where the rest of the world gains a much bigger lead. The government should seriously consider providing open access (whether Google or others ask for it is not the issue, what is good for the public and the country over the long term IS) before selling off the "public parks" to private interests in perpetuity.
Posted by justice007 (13 comments )
Reply Link Flag
" ... IN its mouth ... " that is.
Posted by justice007 (13 comments )
Link Flag
cell phone
at one time i was given a program that would unlock my verizon hone, but cannot locate it
does anone have ti?
ron peterson
Posted by ronapeterson (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
Software that unlocks hones...
I don't know if software to unlock a hone is legal. If you are looking for ti, I would be a bit more discrete.
Posted by ralfthedog (1589 comments )
Link Flag
Re: cell phone
Unlocking a Verizon phone won't do you again good because Verizon operates on the CDMA network (the only other major U.S. carrier that also does so is Sprint). AT&T/Cingular and T-mobile operate on the GSM network, as do most carriers worldwide. If you are interested in having an unlocked phone, say, for travel purposes or whatever, your best bet is to look for one on eBay.
Posted by Jillyho (5 comments )
Link Flag
This is why open standards are necessary
If all cell phones had a basic, security open standard there would be fewer problems across the board.

of course, that would lessen the carriers ability to lock you in and gouge you.
Posted by MSSlayer (1074 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Yeah- in fact,
I think they should empty the entire spectrum, fill it with open standards based wireless internet, and put everything online. What if I'm never satisfied with phones? What if I want to carry around a Linux tablet pc on my back with skype and a bluetooth headset? Dial up speeds? Whatever.

I don't see any practical reason not to do this- but then, when you make a system better, you work somebody out of a job. For instance, if Microsoft and Adobe both filed chapter 11 tomorrow, I wouldn't care (beyond the risk of economic collapse of course), because basically all my stuff is OSS.

What I'm wanting here is for network providers to be nothing more than wireless ISP's.
Posted by ethana2 (348 comments )
Link Flag
It's about time!
Cellphone companies are raping the consumer right now. Ever wonder why all the cool new handsets are only available in Europe and Asia right now?

that's why.

Disallowing locked phones would force cellphone companies to compete with private phone dealers who would provide the newest, coolest phones to consumers.

It would also allow consumers use cheaper alternatives for making calls such as VoIP and internet over wireless networks.
Posted by godam_registration (113 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Make them take it back
If the phone companies won't let you take "your" phone to a new network, they should be obligated to take back the device and cover all costs of disposal.
Posted by not_crazy (2 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Do you think your new phone only costs $99?
Nokia and Motorolla get $300 or $400 for their phones, when you go into a cell phone store and "buy" a new phone how can you expect to be able to take it to any provider to use ti when the one you bought it from paid more than you did for it. If people are willing to pay full price for a phone then it should be portable. Wait a minute, I think you can already do that by paying full price on the phone makers websites.
Posted by largeorange (3 comments )
Reply Link Flag
cost of phones
When I recently lost a phone and had to buy a replacement at Best Buy the unsubsidized-by-subscription price was $89.50 for a basic model which was all I wanted.

Of course, a couple of months later I found the lost one.
Posted by tsumner (18 comments )
Link Flag
I'd much rather pay full price for the phone, then choose my carrier with no contract.

Come to think of it, Cricket does that already in the US. In Europe, it's a common and standard option.

Sure, there's subsidized phones, but that's because of the contract, and carriers know full well that you'll be paying them back for the subsidy cost at least 2-3x over during your enforced contract.

Posted by Penguinisto (5042 comments )
Link Flag
Locked in Contract
The phone is mine if I lock myself into a contract with a provider. So the provider shouldn't be allowed to lock my phone. The provider can lock the phone they provide me if I don't have to be locked into a contract. Consumers shouldn't have to get locked twice, phone and time period.
Posted by shawnlin (75 comments )
Link Flag
I believe you are incorrect !!
I have been to India and seen how cheap they are getting unlocked phones and also how cheap they get service. While their economy will only support a certain price...companies still sell there and I know they wouldn't if they didn't make money. They had the same and alot of the time better phones then we have here. I saw phones that still aren't available in the US.
Posted by waynems (1 comment )
Link Flag
Major Problem
There's a major problem with taking your phone to another carrier's network: The networks are not compatible. Yes, you read that right.

T-Mobile and AT&T uses WCDMA and GSM for their networks while Sprint-Nextel and Verizon use EVDO for theirs. To put quite simply, a Verizon phone will not work on AT&T's network, period. And the carriers are not going to spend big money to change the technology they use either. This is the primary issue with the cellphone ban that was put in place by the USITC on June 7 because Qualcomm infringed on Broadcomm's patents.
Posted by Maelstorm (130 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Unlocking phones in the USA won't work...
How is unlocking a GSM phone going to make it work on a CDMA network?

In Europe, don't all carriers use GSM?
Posted by john55440 (1020 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Some benefits still in the USA
I don't know the situation in Europe. I do know China uses CDMA.

You're right that there are 3 network standards in the US---CDMA, GSM and (I think) PCS. Verizon Wireless and Sprint use CDMA, while AT&T/Congular and T-Mobile use GSM, while Nextel uses PCS.

So, no, we wouldn't get the wide variety of phones they use in Europe.

The biggest advantage would be the ability to buy phones at retail (using the appropriate network type) and use them, instead of only using the ones the carriers choose to provide.

I don't know how many people in the US would spend the extra cash to purchase unlocked phones though---a high-end phone can easily cost $800 or more.
Posted by bluemist9999 (1020 comments )
Link Flag
Incompatible technologies
This is true. AT&T and T-mobile use different technology than Verizon and Sprint. But there are lots of phone manufacturers who are making phones with two radios in them. For example, the new Blackberry 8830 phone that Verizon touts as a "world" phone has a radio for CDMA in the U.S. and another radio for GSM when the user is in Europe. So in theory it wouldn't be too tough for cell phone makers to overcome this obstacle.
Posted by MaggieReardon (140 comments )
Reply Link Flag
That won't work
If the carrier locks your phone and does not require a contract, it does nothing to recoup the investment that they made in you by subsidizing your phone at $200 - $300 bucks. It does not recoup that money by denying you the ability to not use your phone.
Posted by largeorange (3 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Please open channels ASAP
You got your PC and an internet connection, will you like your ISP to only open Microsoft.com? NO... will you like your ISP to charge per MB because everyone is doing so? No... you buy PC from Frys and it works with Fry's internet connection, Fry's Electricity? NO.... Do you want a PC where only Microsoft provides application, no GNU no google? NOOOO....

may be all these questions and answers do apply to mobile domain as well. If hybrid (802.11+gsm/cdma) become cheap and pervasive then question will not remain that big, but only CDMA/GSM it needs to open up for internet access to start with. (which to some extend, Cingular is doing it by allowing and branding other applications.)
Similar in broder perspective shall apply to CDMA/GSM device not blocking or work for one carrier itself (like most of nations other than USA.)

It's your money, that you pay for device and service, so why get blocked with provider/carrier for locked devices, restricted application entries?
Posted by adityapkulkarni (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
Just boycott Verizon!
If people stop succumbing to Verizon's hype (they have the most formidable advertising campaigns, I'll grant you), and vote with their feet, they'll find that it's a wonderful world not having your phone's capabilities neutered.
Posted by Tsee-1968031069905097881578618 (45 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Some of us just want a phone that is a phone
For those of us that just want cell that does JUST THAT, could care less about what features it can or can't have. I for one just would like to turn off the camera function on my phone since I never use it. Verizon is the best carrier in my area based on connections and availability. True though, buy the product that you want, don't legislate it.
Posted by gsekse (164 comments )
Link Flag

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