Verizon’s Open Announcement Is A Big Deal, But Not For The Reasons You Might Think

logo_vzw.gifIf you’ve been online today, you’ve probably noticed that Verizon Wireless has announced that it will “open” its network to “any app, any device” next year. It will maintain its current business model, but will also offer network-only access to users with compatible devices that meet some as-yet-unnamed technical standards, and it will allow them to access any application or service they want. The US-centric, web-centric blogosphere can hardly contain its delight.

But what does Verizon’s announcement really mean?

Make no mistake, overall, I think it’s a good thing to see what’s generally the most closed US operator open things up a bit. But what Verizon has really done here is a masterstroke of PR and marketing. It’s further hijacked the current favorite buzzword, open, to make it look like it’s leading the market — when really, it’s just playing catch-up.

The ability to use any compatible device, and access any site or service — that sounds a lot like what GSM operators (like Verizon’s US rivals AT&T and T-Mobile) already offer to their users who buy a data plan. But they’ve never seen offering an open network as a big deal, so they’ve never marketed it. Verizon swoops in, starts talking about how they’re going to make things open, and like magic, they go from most-reviled to best-loved among the vocal technorati.

Will this announcement result in any big strategic changes from other US operators? Doubtful. Will it result in big marketing changes? You bet. Watch the other operators start bragging about how open they are, alongside their claims of the best coverage. Again, this is another thing where lots of attention is going to be paid to mobile and mobile services, and those of us already in the industry need to seize the opportunity and take advantage of this new audience and its curiosity.

So, in short, yeah, this is a big deal for Verizon: it’s made itself look like a leader and it gives it a chance to reduce the huge cost of device subsidies. But we’re still lacking a lot of details — particularly in terms of pricing, subscription models, those minimum technical standards, and if Verizon will really allow things like VoIP, or claim it messes up their network (except for the right price) — before we start handing out the awards. And really, will Verizon be happy letting itself become a dumb pipe, when that’s completely contradictory to its usual MO?

Overall, is this a big deal for the US mobile scene? Only in as much as the country’s second-biggest operator has brought itself on par with the rest of the market.

I don’t think that this is going to make a huge impact, though it might give the appearance of such. There are few subscribers who really care about this issue, and they’re already using operators other than Verizon (and Verizon knows this, hence it’s not giving up on its current locked-down business model). In terms of the upcoming 700 MHz auction, this sort of move was inevitable. Not because of government rules, but because consumers won’t accept a broadband product — especially a fixed-broadband replacement product — that relies on a walled garden. Furthermore, the launch of the Kindle last week underscores that operators were already well down the path of setting up new business models to support all manner of connected non-phone devices, so again Verizon’s playing catch-up.

Kudos for the brilliant marketing move, and from the rest of the industry, thanks for attracting some more attention to what the rest of us are already doing. I do hope that Verizon is sincere in this effort, and that what it ends up delivering lives up to the hype.

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