Educating the carriers on being open.

Open Mobile cover

Many thanks to Smart Mobs for bringing this to my attention…

If somebody writes a book with “open” and “mobile” in the title I pretty much have to read it. Though you can buy a paper copy of Open | Mobile on Amazon you can also download a free PDF from the authors’ site — which is what I did.

A treatise on openness for those working in the telecom industry, Open | Mobile is a disheartening read at first blush — I found it particularly sad that the authors have had to explain the concept of open source software like it’s something that hasn’t been around for almost two decades.

But I was also reminded of how the industry has traditionally worked, and what a huge (and important) shift in thinking this is.

There’s a great quote from venture capitalist Fred Wilson on what I see as the rights of every mobile phone user on the planet:

I believe it should be required that:

  1. The consumer owns his/her phone number and can use it on any network (Number portability – check.)
  2. The consumer owns his/her mobile device and can use it on any network (Unlocked handsets – check.)
  3. Non-malicious mobile apps should be able to run on any device they were built for (Hmm, shame about that iPhone…)

Hey, two out of three ain’t bad. And if you chose your handset wisely you’ve got a perfect score!

Here’s another worthy quote, this one calling bullshit on some current industry practices:

  • Data is data. With IP (Internet Protocol) all you have is data. Specifically, there is no distinction between data tied to different formats like TV, radio, Web, etc. Once it is in the IP format, there are many ways to access it and the data flows from one format to another, endangering the existing business models which are largely format specific.
  • Carriers already have limits on data in the small print of their contracts. So banning specific applications for the reason that they affect network performance is not a viable argument.
  • When carriers introduce their own VoIP applications, this reasoning will come back to bite them, i.e. how can they ban Skype but not ban their own VoIP apps?
  • Finally, customers increasingly don’t see a ‘phone’. They see a communications device which just happens to make phone calls.

To read Open | Mobile is to see the big, scary world of FLOSS through the eyes of the carriers — who should be properly enlightened by the time they finish it. If ever there was a congregation that needed preaching on the gospel of open source, the telecommunications industry is it.