The days of closed handsets and networks are numbered, but how much are carriers really opening up?
In 2007, "open" was an important word for wireless carriers. Google released its open-source Android OS and muscled carriers into opening up the 700 MHz spectrum, and Verizon surprised everyone by opening its network voluntarily. The days of closed handsets and networks seem numbered—good news for consumers and a change that is long overdue.
But how much are carriers really opening up? And how open will they be in the future? Verizon's network, for instance, will technically be open to any device or application. But phones sold by Verizon will still be limited to Verizon's applications and services. Since the vast majority of people buy subsidized phones (typically the higher-end phones targeted by app developers), third party developers gain access to only a small slice of Verizon's pie (some 64 million subscribers).
Another looming issue is neutrality. While carriers know they'll eventually have to open their networks, don't expect them to be dumb pipes. Much like wired broadband providers, carriers will try to maximize profit with tiered levels of service. Faster data rates and higher quality of service will go to those that pay. (To see what might be coming, observe Time Warner's pricing experiment in Texas.) This premium service will become increasingly important when bandwidth hungry video services such as mobile TV take off.
For more on this topic, see Open Mobile Platforms and Internet Video: Big macro trends from 2007 have future IP video impact.