Sometime next year, Verizon will roll out a Linux OS as the "preferred operating system" for phones on its US wireless network. And that Linux OS is not Google Android.
But the big-name telco says it has no objections to selling Android phones as well. "This is not an either/or proposition," company spokesman Jeffrey Nelson told us. "We do believe that we will also offer devices with the Android OS - that our customers will want them and that we will be delighted to offer them."
Today, Verizon became the first US carrier to join the LiMo (Linux Mobile) Foundation, a consortium of big-name mobile players dedicated to building an "open and consistent" Linux OS for phones across the industry. In teaming with the likes of Motorola, NTT DoCoMo, Orange, Samsung, and Vodafone, the American mobile outfit vows to offer phones built around the foundation's OS by the end of next year.
"It will probably be well into 2009 before end-users, consumers, and small business start seeing full-on Linux devices from us," Nelson said. The foundation released an early version of its OS this spring, and some outfits have already demonstrated devices.
As the Verizon's "preferred OS," LiMo Linux will likely show up on a majority of Verizon-branded mobile devices, including basic models as well as smart phones. But Nelson is adamant the company will offer many other OSes as well, including Android.
"Today, we sell devices with several different operating systems, from Microsoft Windows Mobile to Palm to BREW to RIM," Nelson continued. "And we fully expect that a year from now [or] two years from now we will still have a compliment of different OSes that meet different needs of end users."
Yes, this seems to contradict the mission of LiMO Foundation. But Nelson says it doesn't: "We like the Foundation's approach, but the fact of the matter is that no one OS will ever have 100 per cent of the market."
It's no surprise that Verizon has chosen something other than Google Android as its preferred OS. For much of last year, Verizon and Google went toe-to-toe over the coveted 700-MHz band - a prime portion of the US airwaves recently auctioned off by the FCC - with Google calling for open access to the band and Verizon backing the carrier-controls-everything status quo.
What's surprising is that Verizon has since undergone a personality transplant. Now that the FCC has answered Google's call for open access and Verizon has emerged as the owner of the 700-MHz band, the telco uses words like these to explain its love affair with LiMo:
We chose LiMo because it's a collaborative effort. It's not just one company runs the place. We like that. We like a collegial and collaborative effort, where there is no barrier to entry on the part of developers and, at the end of the day, there is no one entity that can say 'OK, here's how we were playing now. The rules are changed.'
LiMo will be our preferred OS because of this openness.
Yes, this is the same company that tossed a US appeals court at the FCC in an effort to maintain a network where it controlled every device and every application.
In choosing LiMo, Verizon says that Android isn't as open as it would prefer. Yes, Google bills Android as open. And, yes, it's backed by the Open Handset Alliance, another industry consortium calling for the open development of mobile apps. But Nelson argues that at this point, Google is calling the shots. "Google said 'Here's the plan. Sign on the dotted line if you support.' It may end up being collaborative. It may end up being collegial. But it need not be."
He actually has a point. But maybe Verizon just wants more control over the situation. It should be noted that the company made sure it has a place on the LiMo board.
In any event, Verizon says that customers will be free to attach any device and any application to its network by the end of the year - provided those devices and applications met certain minimum specifications. So, in theory, you'll have free rein to attach an Android phone even if you don't buy it from Verizon.
Of course, most people will use what Verizon gives them. That may be bad news for Google. And it's certainly bad news for Qualcomm, a member of the Open Handset Alliance that currently supplies the OS for most of Verizon's non-smart phones. ®