Taking Control from the Carriers

In the United States (and in other places too), our wireless phone carriers have too much control. As an example, I have a Palm Pre Plus that is currently running Palm WebOS 1.4.1. Palm updated the operating system to version 1.4.5 on July 15, which brought a number of new features and capabilities, including support for newer and more-advanced games and applications.

Verizon Wireless, however, has withheld this update from its users. This isn’t unique to Palm users, or Verizon customers. With pretty much every phone other than the iPhone, updated software from phone manufacturers are not released to users until the carriers release them—usually many months late, if they are ever released at all. My old AT&T 8525 (made by HTC) running Windows Mobile was capable of running Windows Mobile 6.5, but AT&T never updated it beyond 6.1. AT&T eventually updated my BlackBerry Bold’s software to BlackBerry OS 5.0, but finally did so many, many months after it became available from RIM (and after I had abandoned AT&T for Verizon anyway).

It’s time to put the control in the hands of the manufacturer of the phone, not the carrier. The company that made my phone has created updated software for it, so let me install it. Verizon has no right to withhold an available software update from me.

Sometimes you can work around these limitations. With BlackBerrys, it’s fairly easy (with the right know-how) to install available software updates on the ‘wrong’ carrier’s phones (during the year+ I had the BlackBerry, I spent most of my time running ‘unofficial’ OS’s that were newer and better than the ‘official’ ones from AT&T). With the old Palm OS phones you could usually hack the ‘unlocked’ versions of the Palm OS onto carrier models. With many Windows and Android phones, vibrant enthusiast communities produce unofficial ‘ROMs’ with updated systems. Sadly there’s no known way (yet) to do this stuff with WebOS because of the uniquely efficient way that Palm packages and distributes its OS updates.

But it’s very simple: we should not have to hack around to run the newest operating systems available for our phones anyway. They are our phones, not Verizon’s or AT&T’s. We should be able to get an updater from the company that made the phone and install it, if we want to, and the carriers should put no roadblocks in our way. Sure, they have the right not to support an unofficial OS version, but they have no right to use technical means to prevent us from installing them if we want to. I’ll say it again: they’re our phones!

Scott Bradford is a writer and technologist who has been putting his opinions online since 1995. He believes in three inviolable human rights: life, liberty, and property. He is a Catholic Christian who worships the trinitarian God described in the Nicene Creed. Scott is a husband, nerd, pet lover, and AMC/Jeep enthusiast with a B.S. degree in public administration from George Mason University.