Smartphones are opening - but just a crack

* It's a long journey to openness in mobile networks

There are several definitions of "open access." One is making open source code available to a community of smart cookies who can debug and modify it using open source mechanisms. Another is offering up low-cost or free software development kits (SDK) to encourage creative applications for a given platform. Another is offering middleware that allows an application developed once to run on multiple platforms. And, finally, in mobile networks, open can mean using a phone and its applications on any carrier's compatible network.

We’re getting there. The Android Linux-based mobile operating system has an open source SDK available. Another open source Linux-based effort from the LiMo Foundation plans to have an SDK available to its members before the year is out, says Andrew Shikiar, the foundation’s director of global marketing. LiMo’s OS is at the heart of 23 shipping handsets around the world already.

So on the development and debugging side, things are opening up. Still, it’s challenging to balance openness with the control needed to avoid network overload or harmful application development.

“Open access” as promulgated by the FCC in its latest round of wireless auctions (on the advisement of Android leader Google, no less) included not only open development for devices, but the portability of devices among different carriers’ networks, provided the underlying network technologies and frequencies are compatible. But just as the Apple iPhone is bolted in the U.S. to the AT&T network, the newly announced T-Mobile Android-based G1 phone, to ship next month, is bound to the T-Mobile network, which expects to have UMTS or HSDPA 3G coverage in 27 U.S. markets by year-end.

In other words, both carriers are not supporting unlocked phone options at this point.

Can locked phones really be considered open?

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Copyright © 2008 IDG Communications, Inc.

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