Verizon Wireless sets its customers free
Voyager, the operator's new "iPhone killer," will be its first consumer handset to let users roam the Web freely.
(Fortune) -- The LG Voyager, a new phone which will be exclusive to Verizon Wireless, boasts a slew of multimedia features: Music player, live television, and a two-megapixel camera. It has an iPhone-like touch screen, but it also has a full keyboard, aimed squarely at folks who disdain pecking out text messages with their index finger, which is what users of the Apple (Charts, Fortune 500) phone typically do.
The Voyager also is the first Verizon Wireless consumer phone to include a full web browser. For Verizon Wireless, a joint venture of Verizon (Charts, Fortune 500) and Vodafone (Charts), this is no small deal.
Verizon has long been one of the biggest proponents of keeping its wireless customers "on deck" -- steering users to a menu of games, entertainment, news and other content that is selected by Verizon, and given premium placement on the customer's mobile-phone screen.
But by installing a browser on the Voyager, Verizon is essentially giving customer permission to leave the so-called "walled garden" of content predetermined by Verizon.
"If you're a carrier that cares about the customer, what you're going to want to do is provide them with good solutions," says Verizon Wireless's chief marketing officer Mike Lanman. "That means giving them content that's unique to Verizon Wireless, and also letting people go off deck."
Verizon sells a number of so-called "smart phones," such as Palm's (Charts) Treo, that enable customers to surf the Web on their handsets, but those devices target business users. The Voyager, which will be launched around Thanksgiving -- in time for the crucial holiday shopping season -- is the only consumer-oriented phone in Verizon's portfolio (so far) that includes a web browser.
Wireless industry executives think mobile web browsers eventually will be de rigueur, as consumers start to think of their mobile devices not as phones but as portable computers. "There will be a full browser in every device," says Jon von Tetzchner, CEO of Opera Software, which makes a browser especially for mobile devices.
He cautions carriers: "If you want guests to stay, you don't lock them in the room." Translation: Operators let Verizon Wireless will retain their subscribers -- and command fees from users of data networks -- by letting customers roam wherever they want on the Web.
And Voyager users will of course need to use Verizon's wireless data network for Web access. Unlike the iPhone, which lets users use Wi-Fi networks to go online, the Voyager operates on Verizon's broadband network.
"Our network offers a superior experience to Wi-Fi for many applications," Verizon Wireless's Lanman says. "The ubiquity of our (3G) network takes away the anxiety about where people can use their device."