Optical/IP Networks

The Empty Promise of 'Open Access'

5:45 PM -- Sprint Corp. (NYSE: S)'s coming EVO 4G WiMax phone will likely once again illustrate how meaningless the terms "open" and "unlocked" are in the US at the moment.

When it introduced XOHM WiMax way back when, Sprint talked a lot about how the company would offer "open-access" plans for the new service. Sprint hasn't yet said how it will sell the new device, but I suspect it won't sell the new phone as an open or unlocked device but on a standard two-year contract.

And why not? The EVO is the first phone from Sprint that buyers have been excited about for a while, and it's almost pointless to use the device as a CDMA-only phone. (See CES: Sprint's in the XOHM.)

In fact, most of the current devices touted as open still lock you onto a single network if you want decent performance. Take the Nexus One from Google (Nasdaq: GOOG) -- you can buy a version with a radio that works best with either AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T)'s 3G network or T-Mobile US Inc. 's 3G, not both. Adding radio support for both networks would have added to the overall cost of the device but allowed a user to truly choose between a couple of different networks.

The "unlocked" Apple Inc. (Nasdaq: AAPL) iPad is similar; the GSM radio on the iPad allows for 3G access on AT&T but not T-Mobile. The smaller carrier doesn't support the microSIM format used in the device anyway.

So, while its nice to talk about "open access" right now, what the phrase seems to signify right now is the empty illusion of choice rather than real options. Would customers spend more for extra radio support to get true choice? The iPad might start to answer that question.

— Dan Jones, Site Editor, Light Reading Mobile

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