Verizon's Open Network Starts Slow But There's Hope

sony_10039_142154jpegVerizon says it’s willing to provide access to its cellular network for wireless devices like the Kindle reader, according to Tony Lewis, vice president of open development at Verizon. He spoke to Reuters in the lead up to CES yesterday and said the public could expect e-readers comparable to Amazon’s (AMZN) Kindle running on the Verizon Wireless network in 2009. If Verizon will offer wireless access to the Sony eReader, then economy be damned, I’m picking one up.

Aside from my own e-reader dreams, the news is welcome for those who have been curious as to how accessible Verizon’s open network will actually be. In November 2007, Verizon said it would open up its network to other devices. On Monday, the carrier released data showing its progress toward openness. I wasn’t impressed.

I thought we would have to pry Verizon’s network open with a crowbar, judging by the fact that in the last year it has certified two independent testing labs and fewer than 30 devices, all of which are tailored toward businesses. Not all of those devices are even commercially available. This is a far cry from being able to buy an unlocked phone and run it on Verizon’s network.

Even with the news that Verizon will offer wireless data for consumer devices, unlocked phones may never become a reality.  Products using data service only, and built by a major vendor responsible for customer service, are far easier to manage than a slew of unlocked devices running on the network. But the move to provide service for third-party consumer devices like the Kindle is a necessary one as carriers seek to grow their wireless data revenue and make full use of their networks. However, just because the network is open for products such as e-readers, that doesn’t mean it’s going to be used.

Amazon bundles its broadband costs into the price of books downloaded for the Kindle, while Dash navigation devices require a monthly subscription fee. Verizon Wireless’ network is awesome, but it’s pricey, and the company isn’t exactly keen on competition to its own services. We’ll have to see what kind of pricing model Verizon allows, and how much it will charge. As devices that access a cellular network become more common, it’s likely that a consumer won’t want to pay an ever-expanding number of wireless bills just to download books, music, real-time traffic, etc. And in the current downturn, they certainly won’t pay a lot for them.

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