Verizon Locks Out GPS Competition, Customers Complain

GPS on mobile phones was supposed to liberate millions of users, by letting people in unfamiliar surroundings figure out where they are and enabling location-aware services for restaurants, shops, and other services.

But many Verizon customers have been unable to find GPS nirvana, thanks to the fact that most GPS-equipped Verizon smartphones don't work with widely available GPS software and systems. Customers have accused the telecommunications giant of locking out the competition, but Verizon insists there are valid technical reasons.

Consider the GPS-equipped Samsung Omnia. The Verizon-branded version of this phone could save your life if you make a 911 call, and it could give you directions if you're willing to pay $10 per month using Verizon's VZ Navigator service. But download the mobile version of Google Maps and it won't find a satellite. Verizon has disabled the GPS feature's ability to work with most programs, such as the popular Google service.

People who have bought the Omnia and other Verizon smartphones smell a rat. Way back in 2007, Adam, working in BlackBerry Customer Support for RIM, felt this was "no doubt to push their own VZNavigator service...No VZNavigator service, no GPS." In January, an anonymous user reviewing the HTC Touch Pro CDMA at phoneArena.com asked "Why does Verizon feel such a deep need to strip features out of manufactures phones?...HTC designed a feature that works great with Google maps but Verizon cant [sic] make money off that. So what do they do? LOCK IT!"

A Verizon spokesperson told the Industry Standard that "We're not disabling GPS. We use Assisted GPS [that can be used by] any third party that have gone through our developer program." Assisted GPS uses the cellular network as well as satellites to determine a user's location.

Although the spokesperson stated that "we do not intend to have a monopoly on GPS with Navigator for our devices," she admitted that Verizon generally disables support for plain, old, standalone GPS in the smartphones that it uses. That effectively locks out GPS programs created without Verizon's participation.

But Verizon is rethinking that policy. The company recently unlocked standalone GPS on the Blackberry Storm. According to the spokesperson, the Omnia "will support standalone GPS in the future." However, the company could not say when this would happen.

This story, "Verizon Locks Out GPS Competition, Customers Complain" was originally published by thestandard.com.

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