AT& T, Verizon Plan Wireless Future

By Cecilia Kang
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, April 5, 2008

Verizon Wireless and AT&T said they plan to create faster and more robust networks with a new chunk of radio spectrum they won at a recent federal auction of airwaves. They also talked about moving toward more "open" networks, offering consumers the ability to use a greater number of devices and more applications over their handsets.

The companies disclosed plans for their purchase of 700-megahertz radio frequencies after rules restricting them from discussing the Federal Communications Commission's auction were lifted Thursday night.

Carriers currently control the types of phones and services their wireless subscribers can use.

Even though the companies touted their new networks as open, some said they won't offer the extent of consumer choice that some public-interest groups and Internet companies sought.

The carriers' definitions of an open network vary. AT&T argues that its use of SIM, operating and memory cards already allows the use of any device with those technologies on its network. It said it invites developers to create technologies for its networks, but it must approve their use.

Verizon Wireless, meanwhile, refused to elaborate on how it defines "open access." It purchased a segment of airwaves at the auction that came with a requirement that it must build a network open to all devices and software applications. The company said it would begin testing technologies on its existing network by June.

"We don't want to get into definitions at the moment that are 'regulatory-ese.' We want to get people to close their eyes and imagine all the possibilities," said Verizon Wireless spokesman Jeffrey Nelson.

Google, the Internet phone service provider Skype and some public-interest groups had hoped to push the FCC and carriers to offer more unfettered consumer access. They also sought clearer regulatory definitions from the FCC.

"Our objective is to bring the ethos of the Internet to the wireless world . . . gathering the world's information, making it universally accessible and easy to use," but carriers still can control what users can do over the wireless network, said Rick Whitt, telecom and media counsel for Google.

Google, which bid in the airwave auction but didn't win, said it will continue to stay involved with the implementation of rules to ensure that Verizon Wireless carries out the openness principles.

Wireless carriers, meanwhile, said they are being friendly to consumers.

Verizon Wireless chief executive Lowell McAdam said yesterday that the company's purchase "will make Verizon the preferred partner for developers of a new wave of consumer electronics and applications using this next-generation technology."

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