Jun 21st, 2008

Anthony Lewis, Vice President of Open Development at Verizon Wireless, stated that at least one device has passed the necessary certification process for allowance on Verizon’s new 700MHz spectrum. He also claims he, “is happy about some of the devices [he] has already seen.” While there aren’t any details about the manufacturers or handsets, the appearance that Verizon’s process of openness is working is reassuring.

For those lagging behind, here is a quick refresher on what key events led up to now:

  • Nov 5th, 2007:  Google Announces Android
  • Nov 27th, 2007: Verizon Wireless announces Any Apps, Any Device essentially promising to open their network to networks, devices and applications from 3rd parties.
  • Jan 24th, 2008: FCC Auction 73 begins with 5 main spectrum “blocks” up for grabs, including the nationwide and most highly sought “Block D” license
  • March 24th, 2008: Verizon is announced as the winner of the 700MHz auction, but Google’s bluff bids pushed the winning amount above a pre-determined threshold that force the winner to keep the spectrum “open”. This FCC imposed commitment to creating an open-access network would allow any device that passes the basic standards and requirements to access the network.
  • Although seemingly on the same page, the 2 companies begin to feud over the details of the open network.
  • Seemingly out of spite, Verizon joins LIMO, a competing foundation and platform for Open Source Mobile software based on Linux.

We already know that Verizon has approved at least one device for use on their 700MHz network. And based on Verizon’s own Open Development Standards the process shouldn’t be too difficult for legitimate devices. Quoting these passages directly from Verizon’s own documentation:

  • ” testing will be intentionally minimalistic”
  • “Verizon Wireless will certify a number of external test labs to conduct Open Development Device approval testing.”
  • “The testing is the only way to determine that the device, once activated, won’t harm or otherwise interfere with the Verizon Wireless network.”
  • “We expect the typical [approval] time to be weeks rather than months.”
  • “Verizon Wireless will not be responsible for device support issues. The Device Manufacturer will own this responsibility.”
  • “Verizon Wireless will not approve, test or service third party applications that customers load onto their Open Development Devices.”

So from their own documentation, most devices should pass this minimal testing by determining they won’t harm the VZW network. Of course, throwing an Open Source platform like Android into the mix is a wild card. Verizon could look for ways and reasons that Android should not be allowed on the networking, claiming that under the FCC’s guidelines, this imposed a risk to their network and they therefore did not have to include Android devices on their network.

Whether out of spite or not, when Verizon announced their membership of LIMO they may have inherently accepted Android onto their network as well. It would be much harder to discriminate against an Open Source platform when your company sits on the board of directors of… another Open Source Platform.

By joining one (LIMO), Verizon has practically committed themselves to allowing the other (Android). They could look for reasons to single out Android but chances are Android will be able to past any test LIMO could with flying colors. Plus, does Verizon Wireless really want to upset the likes of Samsung, HTC and Motorola who are founding members of the Open Handset Alliance?

Anthony Lewis confirmed that the devices, not the applications are what will undergo the testing, “We are leaving the door wide open for applications,” he said. “We are not going to evaluate applications on ODI (Open Development Initiative) devices. Any certification for applications we will leave up to device manufacturers.”

So if LiMo can pass… Android should pass… and then its simply a matter of manufacturers submitting their Android handsets. That won’t happen for a few months since the platform isn’t even finished. But LiMo already has 18 handsets and it wouldn’t be a stretch to suggest that some of those models Mr. Lewis has seen have been LiMo handsets. So if a LiMo handset can gain approval prior to an Android handset even being submitted it would seem the way would be somewhat paved.

Plus, look at the second bullet above – external labs will be doing the testing. To at least some degree, it appears that this work is contracted out to a 3rd party. Whether this is because they want to maintain a fair and balanced approach to comply with the FCC or whether they don’t have the capabilities internally (or both) the process looks pretty objective all the way around.

By the way, Mr. Lewis was ASKED about the various platforms that might be found on different devices and here are CNET’s comments on his response: “He added that developers are free to use any operating system they choose on their devices whether its Google’s Android, the open Linux platform Limo, or Microsoft’s Windows Mobile.”

Sounds promising, doesn’t it? Verizon Wireless customers eager for Android have been worried that the carrier won’t adopt Android handsets. But with the clamor between Verizon and Google mysteriously absent it seems Android will have its way with the 700MHz spectrum afterall.

When it comes down to it, why should Verizon care? Sure, Google might have been a real pain in the butt with that whole “auction” thing, but people who want Android are probably going to get Android – better on Verizon’s network than somebody else’s, right Big Red?

Devices that operate on the 700MHz spectrum won’t be sold with contracts. Usually you see phone prices coupled with the lines “with 2-year agreement” and “with mail-in rebate”. These won’t come bundled on Verizon’s Open Network.

As far as service goes, you would buy the Android Handset seperately and then take it to Verizon Wireless afterwards for use on their network. Pay as you go or month-to-month deals are the likely scenario but details about the exact method and/or pricing haven’t been disclosed.

It seems the stars are aligning for Android, and at least in theory, Verizon Wireless should be included in the carrier mix when Android is first launched to consumers in the 4th quarter of 2008.

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