Just how open will Verizon's network be?

Verizon wants to open its network to third-party access, but still has critical questions to address before it can welcome the world to its doors.

Verizon made a big splash in 2007 by talking up its plans to open its network to third-party developers. "Any application, any device" was the mantra.

Several months later, however, more questions than answers remain as to just how open Verizon plans to be, and what it's going to charge for the privilege of openness, as BusinessWeek has highlighted.

Among the biggest concerns: Verizon did not divulge any details of the pricing plans customers would be offered to use such devices. Nor did it publish any specifications to help software developers create applications for the network. In fact, the company distributed materials to attendees online, stressing that the company "will not approve, test, or service third-party applications that customers load onto their Open Development Devices."

And despite numerous claims by Verizon executives that testing and certification for new devices could take as little as four weeks, many attendees are skeptical the process will be that easy.

Let's be clear: Verizon is breaking new ground here, for itself and for the industry. It's highly unlikely the company has a clear idea of where it wants to go with this open-access pledge. The only thing it likely knows is that the U.S. mobile market is fairly well-saturated, and opening up to experiment with new monetization and development models is likely worth a bet.

Personally, I think Verizon's pricing plans can wait. What it needs, more than anything else, is to spark the imagination and productivity of third-party application developers. It was criticized for focusing its launch on handset manufacturers, which is an important constituency but not the disruptive community it needs to crank out new financial opportunities on its network.

As Microsoft learned years ago on the desktop, there's a ton of money to be made with a platform that hosts a huge array of third-party applications. Verizon has that chance now, but needs to specify the details around its openness pledge so application developers can figure out how and when to get involved.

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