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US carriers hedge open network claims

'Wild West' internet not their bag

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CTIA Wireless Earlier this year, FCC boss Kevin Martin said there was no need to force open access requirements onto American wireless carriers, insisting they would embrace openness on their own. But it looks like the big-name carriers are still wary of a mobile internet that's as wide open as its desktop cousin.

Today, at the CTIA Wireless IT and Entertainment trade show in San Francisco, chief execs from three of the country's four largest carriers hailed a new era in American wireless where the Average Joe can attach a much broader range of devices and applications to the airwaves. But two of these CEOs indicated they would go only so far.

"If you look at just unfettered access in an open world, all of us would probably agree that you probably poor experience at the end of the day," said T-Mobile CEO Robert Dotson, with a nod to the wireless big-wigs beside him, Sprint Nextel's Dan Hesse and Verizon Wireless' Lowell McAdam. "There needs to be some stewardship and control of that...if it goes true Wild West, the network quality experience, the security for the most personal information that an individual carries with them, [is compromised]."

Dotson says that a truly open mobile internet would suffer the same fate as, um, municipal WiFi. "People thought that municipal WiFi would be the open answer. But at the end of the day, it didn't give you a good secure experience - and in many cases, it gave you a week-to-week billing structure you could never live with."

We're not sure what muni WiFi billing methods have to do with anything. But it's clear Dotson doesn't want his network embracing anything and everything.

At one point, he bragged that T-Mobile's GSM network has long allowed customers to attach their own third-party devices. Then he indicated this isn't a good idea. "I talked about the number of devices that get put on the T-Mobile network that truly are open. They might originate out of the Netherlands or out of Hong Kong. But I would also tell you that the big double digital percentage of customers that put those devices onto out network have a less than good T-Mobile experience," he said.

"On the outside, it looks very enticing to say 'Why can't we just put anything on the network?.' But if there's not some limited level of stewardship, you sub-optimize the innovation and creativity that can happen."

In similar fashion, Verizon CEO Lowell McAdam bragged that the company has already certified the first two third-party devices for its network, including a $69 "voice and text" device from the pre-paid service provider AirVoice and a wireless router aimed at the insurance industry. Then he questioned whether Americans are really going to like this sort of thing.

"I think we have to be careful to not all run to one side of the ship," McAdam said. "We have, as an industry, conditioned customers to very expensive computers put in their hands for very few dollars. And they've always got to the option when things go wrong to walk into a T-Mobile store, a Sprint store, a Verizon Wireless store, an AT&T store. In an open environment, that's going to change."

At which point, Dotson piped up again, insisting closed devices are still a wonderful thing. "Blackberry is not an open platform. But it's one of the most phenomenal email experiences on the planet," he said. "There's a role for devices - whether it's the T-Mobile Sidekick or the Blackberry - that have that seamless integration between the network and the hardware and software." ®

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