A Windows Mobile perspective
Have you heard the news? Verizon Wireless is going to open its wireless network to phones using GSM technology. This is big news for Pocket PC users because some of the new Pocket PC phones will work with your choice of wireless carrier, as long as your carrier uses GSM. You see Verizon and Sprint use CDMA for their network technology. There is nothing wrong with CDMA except that GSM (Global System for Mobile) is the de-facto wireless standard outside of the United States. So how do I know this is going to happen, a Vodafone spokesperson said so. Who is Vodafone? Vodafone is owner of 45% of Verizon Wireless and one of the biggest GSM network operators in the world. When asked when Verizon planned to implement their break with CDMA, Verizon’s spokeswoman said “We are talking 2004, 2005. By that point who knows what will happen.”
Sorry, I was stuck in a bit of a time warp. You see the previous paragraph describes actual news from 2001. Despite Vodafone’s pushing and prodding, Verizon didn’t switch to GSM technology in 2001, 2004 or 2005. But, if you haven’t heard, Vodafone is pushing Verizon to toy with GSM technology yet again. Vodafone and Verizon have jointly announced their intention to trial LTE (Long Term Evolution) technology. This is the 4th generation choice of the GSM community.
So, why is Verizon entertaining a move to GSM again in 2008? It makes sense from a business operations standpoint. Vodafone and Verizon have been fighting over technologies since their marriage in 1999. Vodafone even courted the old AT&T Wireless before it was acquired by Cingular. To work towards common goals instead of different ones will help both companies run more efficiently. It also makes sense that Verizon would explore other network options since Sprint has already announced its break from CDMA for the world of WiMax for its 4th generation technology. If Verizon stayed the course with CDMA technologies, it would account for the vast majority of U.S. CDMA sales. On one hand, it would give them control over which handsets they wanted from whichever manufacturers that they chose. On the other hand, as one of the last holdouts in the CDMA camp, the number of manufacturers willing to bet their futures on one large customer would surely dwindle. In effect, Verizon would be the big fish in a small and shrinking pond. Now, this may not sound bad to some CEOs, but there is another reason to question Verizon’s loyalty to CDMA going forward.
Up to this point, I have discussed “openness” as it pertains to network technology, or, which handsets work on which networks. Another aspect of “openness” in the wireless world pertains to handset technology, or, what applications work on what handsets. This may seem like a moot point for those of us in the Windows Mobile world. For the most part, Pocket Outlook works the same on a Sprint Touch as it does on the unlocked HTC Touch. The fact of the matter is that a lot of development goes on behind the screen to make sure that you see it that way. Because the wireless technologies are different between GSM and CDMA, so is the coding for some bandwidth intensive applications. If the people who develop new applications could focus on one technology instead of two, manufacturers and wireless carriers would spend a lot less time on handset and application testing. If Verizon becomes the lone CDMA carrier in the U.S., even more developers and handset manufacturers will choose to focus on just one technology, and it won’t be CDMA.
So, what are the benefits to you if Verizon does change to a GSM technology? The most important benefit for everyone is “openness”. O.K., that sounds sort of existential. Let me explain. For over a decade, wireless phone users around the world have been able to buy the handset they wanted and use it with the carrier they wanted. While this freedom is more a result of an open business model than a network infrastructure, GSM and its SIM card technology have been enablers of that freedom. This openness is evident in the number of “unlocked” GSM Windows Mobile devices that are featured in this magazine every issue. If Verizon moves to a GSM technology, a world of devices will be opened up to their customers. The expanded product line for Verizon, combined with its willingness to let you bring another carrier’s handset with you as a customer will give you, as prospects or customers, more choices in handsets and carriers. To summarize my existential start to this section, more openness for Verizon equals more choices for you, the customer.
Will Verizon move to LTE and the GSM family? I don’t really know. As we have discussed, there are a lot of good reasons for them to do so. Then again, most of these reasons are the same reasons for Verizon to do it 7 years ago. Despite all of the posturing of Verizon towards GSM, a Verizon Wireless spokesman recently emphasized that the company is “working closely with Vodafone for next-generation technology. We have not made a technology decision.”