Will Wireless Networks really be open? What does that mean?

This year’s CTIA show occurred just one month before the 25th anniversary of the first commercial cellular call. At the opening keynote session, Steve Largent, President and CEO of CTIA, made a few opening remarks and then moderated a panel of several wireless executives. Steve, a former All Pro NFL receiver, glibly rifled off the following statistics from CTIA’s Wireless Industry Survey: $15B wireless data revenues in the US during the last six months (20% of carrier revenues vs only 10% two years ago), US has overtaken Europe in 3G subscribers, 75M text messages sent each month (a 160% year over year growth rate as of June). Steve also noted that the mobile content business is robust and growing rapidly. It’s likely that user-generated mobile content (text, photos, videos and audio) will far surpass user-generated content on PCs.

Mr. Largent predicted that going forward, wireless broadband would experience rapid change, higher speeds, and much more choice for consumers. Capabilities such as GPS, video, MP3, photo sharing, location based services (including the ability to get directions to a desired store or restaurant) would be forthcoming.

During the panel session, wireless industry executives indicated that walled gardens were a thing of the past and that wireless networks are opening up. It appeared that some operators would focus on opening the network to devices (Verizon Wireless), while others will likely focus more on applications (Sprint and T-Mobile). AT&T Wireless did not participate in this panel, but was represented in a Mobile Web 2.0 session.
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Definitions:

"Open Networks" is the ability to run an application on all mobile networks (from different providers) without any modification to the software resident in the client device. This is the rationale for the Android platform and Open Mobile Alliance.

There’s also the concept of "Open Applications," which is the ability to publish your application or service without interference from anyone, including the wireless network operator. Example: Google Android (vs. control by Apple over the Apple Store).
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Sprint Nextel

CEO Dan Hesse’s vision of open echoed what Kevin Packingham, Sprint’s Sr. Vice President previously said. Sprint believes that customers want the same accessibility to the Internet from their mobile device that they get from their notebook or desktop PC. But to date, wireless network operators have offered customers their own approved applications running on devices they sell and control. Yet customers ultimately want a choice. Sprint is working hard to help customers get easier access to the mobile Web through personalization and customization.

T-Mobile’s

strategy is a bit less clear. During the keynote, CEO Robert Dotson talked about how important it is to have open devices and open applications. He touted the fact that the company uses GSM-based technology so many consumers can already use third-party devices on the T-Mobile network by putting a T-Mobile SIM card in the device. He also expounded how the carrier hopes to "unleash innovation" through its new developer program and the importance of supporting open source operating systems.

Verizon Wireless

is initially focusing on opening its network to devices. While applications are a big part of the open equation and will likely result in big business for the operator, Verizon believes the key is to first act as a catalyst for the device makers by making it easier for them to get their devices certified and operating on the network. To understand Verizon’s strategy, one needs to broaden the concept of a mobile "device" to think beyond handsets and PC cards. Thermostats, heating and cooling, home appliances, medical devices, airline sensors are all new potential wireless network devices. "Start thinking what it would be like if every thermostat was connected to the network," said Verizon CEO Lowell McAdam. "What if the airline industry put sensors on engines in aircraft to predict failures before they happen? This will impact the way people live and manage their lives."

Sue Marek of Fierce Wireless interviewed Verizon Wireless’ Vice President of Open Development Anthony Lewis, who is charged with developing Verizon’s "open device and application" initiative.  Lewis talked about Verizon’s progress on open networks and why this wireless carrier’s approach is different from its competitors.  Please see:
http://www.fiercewireless.com/ctialive/story/hot-seat-verizons-anthony-lewis/2008-09-17

Conclusions

It seems that operators are finally talking about open networks and open applications. But is it just talk or are they really going to make it happen?  For sure, there is a lot more work to be done to turn the theories and visions into reality.  It would be nice if U.S. wireless networks would become as open as European GSM networks are today.  If it does happen, a much bigger market for wireless data (=non-voice) applications would emerge.  That would surely result in more innovation for developers and more choice for users.  A likely outcome then would be for mobile applications and services to eventually dominate the wireless operator revenue stream, with all participants sharing the revenue in an equitable manner.

References

For CTIA session video clips and photos, please visit:

http://daily.ctia.org/wirelessit08/

For a roundup of SPRINT’s views on open networks, please see:

http://sprintconnection.kansascity.com/?q=node/795

In an opposing point of view:  Skype official calls out carriers on "open" networks

In a strongly-worded letter to the FCC Chairman Kevin Martin, a Skype official complained that the major U.S. wireless carriers were all talk when it came to "open" networks, and that if the Commission wanted to live up to its stated goal of making open networks more accessible, it would affirm that this policy covers wireless networks.

http://www.fiercewireless.com/story/skype-exec-calls-out-carriers-open-networks/2008-09-16?utm_medium=nl&utm_source=internal&cmp-id=EMC-NL-FW&dest=FW

 

 

One thought on “Will Wireless Networks really be open? What does that mean?

  1. Do mobile operators have to become Dumb Pipe suppliers or commodity ISPs? Analysts at Ovum this week said that the same fate need not befall the mobile operators as it did the wireline ISPs, which adopted this approach for the internet model several years ago. Are open mobile networks the answer to stimulating new revenue producing apps and more innovation? What do you think?

    http://www.telecoms.com/itmgcontent/tcoms/news/articles/20017571648.html

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