ATT “Opens” their Network

ATT starts the morning with what seems like a fantastic announcement:

Starting immediately, AT&T (T) customers can ditch their AT&T phones and use any wireless phone, device and software application from any maker — think smartphones, e-mail and music downloading. And they don’t have to sign a contract.

“You can use any handset on our network you want,” says Ralph de la Vega, CEO of AT&T’s wireless business. “We don’t prohibit it, or even police it.”

AT&T’s push to give consumers maximum control of their wireless worlds is being driven, in part, by Google. The tech giant is a monster in the Internet search business for personal computers, and is hoping to replicate that success in the wireless market.

Google (GOOG) recently announced plans to link arms with more than two dozen wireless companies, including Sprint (S), with the goal of developing an operating system that lets consumers use any application on mobile devices, much as they now do on PCs. Other partners include Japanese cellphone giant DoCoMo and handset maker Samsung.

Everything that Google has promised to bring to the wireless market a year from now AT&T is doing today, de la Vega says. “We are the most open wireless company in the industry.” []

As most power users know, it’s been possible to BYO device for years on the GSM networks. I’ve had many devices on both TMO and Cingular / ATT for the past few years alone and just swap the sim card as I go. It’s also no secret that I’ve been using my iPhone SIM with the N95-3 since it was released. I wonder if this announcement today provides any ammunition for my argument on unlocking the SIM card to get MMS working. Or perhaps a second SIM to use in rotation so I can have full access to the services my device supports when I decide to use a device for a particular purpose.

The key missing detail in this announcement is exactly how open the door might really be… Can I start a new account without contract / penalty and just use any device or is this a semantic PR deal that “lets” you change to any other device as an existing customer. I’m thinking the latter, but regardless it’s still a good move to the more mass consumer on what options exist.

Nokia has to be smiling this morning on this news as their entire messaging strategy around N-Series has been 100% Open.

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