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Verizon Wireless Breaks Ranks

Our Point of ViewConsumers in Europe and Asia can walk into electronics stores, pick out a cell phone or other mobile device, and plug it into the service carrier of their choice. Now, thanks to the open network plan that Verizon Wireless unveiled last week, U.S. consumers will soon be able to use an expanded range of devices on the Verizon Wireless system and thus move toward catching up with the rest of the world.

The Basking Ridge-based company deserves credit for breaking with the wireless industry’s traditional closed-network model that limits consumers to the cell phones and software that a particular service provider sells. The Verizon Wireless move frees hardware and software developers to come up with new devices to run over the Verizon Wireless system without having to negotiate with the carrier. This could help topple the entire closed-network system by prompting other big wireless-service providers to open their networks, and thereby promote a new wave of innovative products.

The industry appears headed in that direction already thanks to a software platform called Android that Google plans to launch next year. The goal is to enable developers to create new wireless applications that a consortium of 34 manufacturers and service providers has signed up to use.

For most of the last century, the old AT&T monopoly barred consumers from buying and plugging in their own phones, on the grounds that outside equipment could harm AT&T’s network. That restriction ended with the breakup of AT&T. Now, thanks in part to Verizon Wireless, the lock that wireless-service providers have clamped on consumer choice stands to be broken as well.

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