Verizon Takes Down Its Walls

The heavy-handed telco embraces Google's open-standard movement, but on its own terms.
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Verizon

(VZ) - Get Report

wants a piece of the wireless open standard movement, but on its own terms.

The telco, notorious for keeping tight controls on what runs on its cellular network, says it will soon allow its customers to use devices and applications not offered by the company. Software developers and phone makers, though, will have to put their products through a Verizon certification test.

The move comes just four weeks after

Google

(GOOG) - Get Report

announced Android, its open handset alliance, a software development effort aimed at bringing more Internet applications to phones.

Verizon Wireless says it has a $20 million state-of-the-art lab where new devices will be tested, and consumers will have new choices by the end of next year. However, the No. 2 wireless shop says it is not tampering with its conventional service offering.

"This sets the table for the next big leap," Verizon Wireless executives said on a press conference call. It will help "usher in a whole new era of wireless devices and applications," the executives added.

Verizon's sudden interest in open standards comes after years of criticism over the closed nature of the company's wireless strategy. The joint venture between Verizon and

Vodafone

(VOD) - Get Report

hasn't exactly kindled friendships with gadget lovers over the years, at times limiting and even crippling services like music sharing and Bluetooth to its subscribers.

In contrast,

AT&T

(T) - Get Report

bowed to

Apple's

(AAPL) - Get Report

requests to not only control the iPhone, but also all the software running on the device.

Earlier this year, Google successfully convinced the Federal Communications Commission to guarantee that the winners of the upcoming 700-megahertz radio wave auction can allow any devices on the new frequencies.

Clearly, Verizon has its eyes on how it will continue to expand its business in the new spectrum with fourth-generation technology. A key part of that success will involve Verizon's ability to control and charge for new data services, while keeping regulators and Washington happy.

Verizon has not determined any price plans for outside devices that may pass muster.

One near-term change that can be expected, say observers, is that people on

Sprint's

(S) - Get Report

network will be able to bring their CDMA phones to Verizon. That's not true for AT&T, where the iPhone's GSM technology is not compatible with Verizon's CDMA network.

Big phone makers like

Nokia

(NOK) - Get Report

,

Motorola

(MOT)

and

Research in Motion

(RIMM)

already participate in Verizon's certification process. It will be smaller players, like

HTC

or even GPS device specialist

Garmin

(GRMN) - Get Report

, that have a possible shot at gaining future Verizon approval.

Verizon shares recently were up 42 cents to $41.65. Garmin regained its symbolically important $100 level, rising $3.74 to $100.45 in midday trading Tuesday.