CTIA: Open Is the New Frontier

But CEOs from Sprint, T-Mobile, and Verizon can't agree if that frontier will spell a gold rush or the bad ol' days of the wild west

Dan Jones, Mobile Editor

September 10, 2008

3 Min Read
CTIA: Open Is the New Frontier

SAN FRANCISCO -- CTIA Wireless IT & Entertainment -- CEOs from three of the four largest carriers in the U.S. kicked off the initial keynote session of the fall CTIA show with a roundtable on what open access could mean for operators now and in the future.

Lowell McAdam of Verizon Wireless , Dan Hesse of Sprint Corp. (NYSE: S), and Robert Dotson, the big boss at T-Mobile US Inc. , opened their hearts to the CTIA's Steve Largent about what "any device, any network, any application" could mean to them.

Notably absent was the largest operator in the U.S., AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T), although the operator formerly known as Cingular has tried to paint itself as opener-than-thou. (See AT&T Parties Like It's 1999.)

While differing in their opinions on open access's effects, the CEOs agreed that developers are primed to develop applications for mobile devices and that openness is required if carriers are to take full advantage of this enthusiasm.

Hesse, from Sprint, said unfettered access to the Web is what will define the open era. "One thing that 'open' is not, is regulating the Internet," he said.

The speed of new networks and the compute power of devices will allow carriers to take the training wheels off the 'Net, according to Hesse. "What was necessary in the 2G world, is less necessary in the 3G and 4G world."

Hesse also said open access will help Sprint cut the subsidies it pays on users' devices. This has always been a big part of the reasoning behind Sprint's XOHM WiMax network: Subsidies can get cut while prices fall as more device makers go broadband. (See Sprint & Samsung: 'WiMax Is Ready'.)

Verizon's McAdam, meanwhile, emphasized how more open device and application development environments will let the carrier take the leash off developers and vendors that would have had to operate with the walled garden and its rules before.

"All the people that were developing for the PC desktop want to build for mobile," said McAdam. "Verizon couldn't handle all that innovation on its own... That's the beauty of mobile."

In November, Verizon announced it would open its CDMA network, and it launched a developers' portal earlier this year. (See Verizon Tears Down the 'Walled Garden' and Verizon Reveals 'Open Access' Details.) McAdam says that two devices went through the testing process in less than four weeks.

"They're out there in commercial applications right now," he told the crowd. McAdam also showed off a $69 voice and text device and wireless router that are part of the open process

T-Mobile's Dotson likewise said open development plans should cut lead times on applications. He was the first, however, to sound a note of caution about open access, saying that carriers will need to maintain some "stewardship" of their networks in order to ensure "good customer experience."

T-Mobile has always operated with a greater degree of openness than its CDMA rivals, Verizon and Sprint, because of its SIM card-based GSM phones. Dotson estimates that 30 percent of the devices on the T-Mobile network in New York City are devices that weren't bought directly from the carrier.

This openness move will continue with the expected launch of the first Google (Nasdaq: GOOG) Android phone on T-Mobile's network this fall. Nonetheless, Dotson cautioned that the best user experience comes from a device that is optimized to particular network and application set.

He claimed that open networks had to avoid the "wild west" aspects of other open networks like public and municipal WiFi deployments, where security has been an issue. "People carry their most personal data around on these devices... It should be a religion to maintain user security and privacy."

Verizon's McAdam also said that "open" won't be for everyone. "We've conditioned people to these cheap computers in their pocket," he says, but open access will lead to more expensive devices. "Around 20 percent will adopt this very rapidly," he estimated.

— Dan Jones, Site Editor, Unstrung

About the Author(s)

Dan Jones

Mobile Editor

Dan is to hats what Will.I.Am is to ridiculous eyewear. Fedora, trilby, tam-o-shanter -- all have graced the Jones pate during his career as the go-to purveyor of mobile essentials.

But hey, Dan is so much more than 4G maps and state-of-the-art headgear. Before joining the Light Reading team in 2002 he was an award-winning cult hit on Broadway (with four 'Toni' awards, two 'Emma' gongs and a 'Brian' to his name) with his one-man show, "Dan Sings the Show Tunes."

His perfectly crafted blogs, falling under the "Jonestown" banner, have been compared to the works of Chekhov. But only by Dan.

He lives in Brooklyn with cats.

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