Mobile WAN operators raise 'openness' bar

* U.S. carriers embrace VoIP, Android, Wi-Fi

It was a productive week for mobile WANs, with AT&T, Verizon Wireless, T-Mobile and Sprint all making announcements that broke new ground for the licensed operators.

Especially noteworthy:

* AT&T caved to pressure to allow VoIP traffic on its 3G data network from the iPhone, something customers have been demanding.

One reason for the demand is that, theoretically, you could bypass paying for a separate voice plan for using AT&T's legacy circuit-switched GSM network. Note, though, that VoIP traffic over the 3G data network will consume kilobytes on your data plan if you don't have an unlimited domestic plan. And if you're traveling out of the country, usage rates can be astronomical, so you're better off using VoIP over Wi-Fi (already supported) in those locations anyway.

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* Verizon Wireless said it has partnered with former nemesis Google to develop two open source Android devices this year and associated applications.

Note that the devices will support the Google Voice application that AT&T recently shunned for its iPhone amid much public fanfare. Even Google CEO Eric Schmidt expressed surprise "that Verizon Wireless would emerge as the 'open' leader" among the mobile operators, though he said the two companies have been in cahoots on the Android project for 18 months.

T-Mobile and Sprint also each announced intentions to launch Android phones made by Samsung, leaving AT&T as the only carrier without publicly announced plans to offer an Android device.

* T-Mobile introduced an enterprise version of its UMA-based service, which allows Wi-Fi calling over its GSM network. The Research in Motion BlackBerry-centric service is integrated with your corporate PBX features and dial plan, so users can pick up or make a call from either their desk phones or their BlackBerries.

T-Mobile's Wi-Fi Calling with MobileOffice involves T-Mobile installing and managing a BlackBerry Mobile Voice System (MVS) server on your premises. Verizon Wireless offers such a managed service, too, says Rob Arnold, senior analyst at Current Analysis, but without the Wi-Fi calling capabilities.

Note that you could also buy, install and manage an MVS server yourself. The difference is that the service offers unlimited Wi-Fi calling over T-Mobile's GSM core network for free to enterprise customers with 100+ T-Mobile lines or for $9.99 per month per line for companies with fewer than 100 lines.

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