Verizon Wireless, America’s #2 wireless carrier, announced today that it would open its network to non-Verizon phones and applications. That means any CDMA phone (i.e., even those purchased through rival carrier Sprint) will be eligible to work on the Verizon network provided that it passes muster at the new $20 million Verizon testing lab. Verizon said on a call this morning that any devices built to run on its cellular network will be eligible. As Kevin Tofel pointed out, “If you have the smarts to build a cellular-based device in your basement, VZW will test it and, if it meets the minimal network standards, it will get approved.”

“This is a transformation point in the 20-year history of mass market wireless devices — one which we believe will set the table for the next level of innovation and growth,” said Lowell McAdam, Verizon Wireless President and CEO in a press release. Hyperbole aside, this actually is a fairly significant development in the mobile market. Large carriers have long resisted opening their networks and as a result, customers are locked into limited choices from provider to provider (i.e., you can only get Phone X on Network Y and your choice of phone OS is limited to what that network sanctions).

Google’s recent announcement of their open source mobile operating system, Android, and the development of their Open Handset Alliance — which counts both the third and fourth largest mobile carriers in the US, Sprint Nextel and T-Mobile USA, as members — may have put pressure on Verizon to open up.

This is nothing new to customers of GSM-based networks (like AT&T and T-Mobile), who have been able to use virtually any SIM-unlocked device on the network of their choice for years. They’re just not generally officially supported by the carrier, but Verizon will not be offering tech support for third party devices brought to its network anyway. What this does, though, is level the playing field for CDMA customers, so to speak.

But the important question is: does this mean a Verizon iPhone is coming? Well, no. Apple’s iPhone is a GSM based device and won’t run on Verizon’s network, open or not. But some pundits still surmise that a CMDA, Verizon-friendly iPhone is on its way, perhaps within a year. Either way, the customers win when they get more choice, so this is good news for mobile users.

Verizon will release developer specs in early 2008 and plans to have the open network option available for consumers by the end of next year.

josh catone 1