Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Sharing in faux openness

The world's richest Internet property has landed America’s largest mobile phone carriers, after launching a year ago with the smallest of the major carriers.

The result of 18 months of negotiations, this presumably ends the feuding between the two over Google’s efforts to cajole, incent or mandate open networks in a mobile version of net neutrality.

But perhaps the two parties have a shared interested in using openness as a marketing slogan, some magic pixie dust over a non-open strategy.

As noted earlier, Google (and other dot-coms) want open networks (dumb pipes) as a way to cement their existing market positions. And Android has an association (Open Handset Alliance) of companies that want to catch the code Google is throwing over the wall, but not a fully open, shared governance open source community ala Eclipse.

As for Verizon Wireless, they’ve been claiming that their network is open, but there’s understandable skepticism for the operator that has proven the most controlling and difficult of the US carriers to work with.

Google won a major concession in that unlike AT&T, Verizon promised not to block Google Voice. However, this decision will provide no competitive advantage because (as was inevitable) AT&T announced Tuesday that it had decided to capitulate and (also) allow Google Voice.

However, open does not mean that all applications and libraries are treated the same. For example, the revenue split between Verizon and Google is unknown: some claim that Google offers a 30% split, while others claim that the Android Market deal is so generous that Verizon will never take the iPhone.

Presumably Verizon will stop denigrating handsets — its current ads attacking the iPhone basically say who cares about the handset, it’s the network that provides the value. Certainly Verizon’s decision to seek advanced handsets will increase competition in the US smartphone market: T-Mobile and Verizon with Android, AT&T with iPhone and Sprint with webOS.

Verizon promises the new deals is not exclusive, causing Forbes to term the relationship an “open marriage”:

During Tuesday's call, Verizon's Chief Marketing Officer John Stratton said the company intends to continue working with multiple handset partners and software companies. "We don't see expanding business opportunities with one company as taking opportunities away from another," he added.
I’m guessing that Google will someday let go and OHA will eventually become open.

Conversely, based on decades of Baby Bell DNA (held both by Cingular AT&T and Verizon) I doubt the operators are going to suddenly get very open on their own. However, there may be enough pressure from the new administration and new FCC majority (at least until the 2010 Congressional elections) that faux openness could very well be replaced by real openness before they’re done.

The AT&T and Verizon announcements are the first of a series of major announcements this week at the CTIA Wireless show in San Diego. (I hope to have some live postings on Thursday).

Update, Wed 11pm: Somehow I missed that last month Sprint announced an Android device from HTC, as I predicted back in April.

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