A Google News search on this week's neutrality announcement by Verizon Wireless showed hundreds of articles and blog entries, most overwhelming positive in their praise of the wireless carrier. But don't be fooled: Verizon Wireless wants to curry consumer favor, and what it's offering with its 'Any Apps, Any Device' is really no gift at all.
Verizon Wireless' first 'offer': "technical standards the development community will need to design products to interface with the Verizon Wireless network". Are CDMA standards new? 3GPP2, the global standards body for CDMA technologies has been around for years. And if someone claims that the 3GPP lacks down-in-the-trenches relevancy, the CTIA performs testing plus there's the CDMA Certification Forum. Even if Verizon Wireless doesn't already have its own detailed standards, they definitely rely on those from standards bodies, associations, and third-party testing companies (e.g. NEWS IQ and Intertek). You can be sure that manufacturers of CDMA products are well aware of Verizon Wireless' requirements, after all, they're looking to make sales, not dangle trinkets in a carrier's face. In fact, Verizon Wireless has been so detailed in its requirements that some phone models had specific Bluetooth features disabled, which led to lawsuit which they settled.
There's an additional but more subtle level of irony in the press release. From the language it's clear that consumers are part of its intended audience, but consumers aren't in the position to pay the money to get their phones tested, not to speak of designing and bringing new devices to market. This 'offer' is also not going to be the catalyst that spurs a group of entrepreneurs to create a new device. The existing handset and chipset manufacturers dominate the mobile device market, and anyone looking to build some kind of new device will more likely to talk to a component vendor such Novatel Wireless or Sierra Wireless than design something on their own. Verizon's "bring your own device" offer means nothing to the consumer, who will not be able to elicit anything more from the mobile device ecosystem in the future than they could do today.
Verizon Wireless' second 'offer' around software applications is just as hollow. Verizon Wireless has never restricted applications per-se. It's true that BREW created a somewhat closed application ecosystem, but feature phones also had a limited user interface and an operating system with limited capabilities. With the rising market share of smartphones with larger and color screens, and perhaps a keyboard or touch screen, cellular data services, and running on mobile OSes such as Windows Mobile 5 or 6, Symbian, and RIM, significantly more advanced and complex applications are possible. Developer toolkits for these mobile OSes have been around for a long time and customers can install the applications on their own. Wireless carriers around the world are giving up trying to created a walled garden around applications, and real enterprise applications ran on smartphones, which were never closed. Again, Verizon Wireless doesn't offer anything to the consumer that they couldn't already have with the appropriate phone.