Mobile Phones, Applications, and Subsidies
Ken Rutkowski, the host of KenRadio, made a point on his Wednesday show about how carriers restrict the applications that can be installed on their subsidized phones. Namely, he agrees with this practice, as do I. The problem is: most US consumers do not have the ability to purchase unsubsidized handsets.
If you’re on a GSM carrier like AT&T and T-Mobile, you can buy an unbranded, unsubsidized handset through a number of online sources, but not nearly enough retail locations. I have yet to see an unbranded, unsubsidized CDMA handset for US carriers like Sprint or Verizon. If such things existed, I know for sure that Verizon would not permit the use of the device on the network as they only permit devices with specific ESN numbers on their network, i.e. specific devices which they have approved.
Even if you were to pay full retail price for a phone from a carrier store or authorized sales channel, you are going to get a handset that is, in some way, restricted. This is true with all North American carriers. Between this and the ESN restriction tactics employed by Verizon, this effectively makes it impossible to purchase a handset for use on Verizon where you are allowed to install non-carrier approved applications.
If you look a little deeper into what Skype is trying to do with these FCC filings, they are trying to get what is known as the Carterfone rules applied to the mobile phone networks. These are the same rules that permit you to connect any sort of telephony device to the landline telephone network. If these rules applied to our mobile phone networks, you’d see a thriving device market outside of the carrier channels, almost exactly like it exists in Europe.