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Open Sesame

Cell phone companies are starting to free up their networks. Here's the latest on the liberation.

Google's new free and open mobile phone platform, Android, is pressuring traditional wireless phone carriers to follow suit with their networks, hardware and software. Most GSM carriers like AT&T and T-Mobile have been quietly allowing unlocked phones to be activated on their networks. But that had pretty much been the extent of the providers' openness--until recently. In big news for CDMA phone users, previously iron-fisted Verizon Wireless announced that it will offer customers open access to approved third-party applications and software by the end of the year. And AT&T plans to do the same for iPhone users. Similarly, the Android platform offers mobile phone users the ability to pick and choose their phones' software and application bundles; the only difference is that Android is not tied to a specific service provider.

Sprint and T-Mobile are both founding members of the Open Handset Alliance Project that is developing Android. With the other major carriers on board, all eyes are on AT&T to see if it will come out in support of Android. There's a lot of talk of openness, both with device and application support, but it remains to be seen just how open the carriers will be. The pressure from Google isn't going to go away, though--especially as Android actually hits the market.

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This article was originally published in the April 2008 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Open Sesame.

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