The Motorola v710: Verizon's New Crippled Phone
Jonathan A. Zdziarski

Manufacture an amazing piece of technology and then cripple all of the good features so you can profit. This is how many v710 users describe their new Bluetooth-enabled phone from Verizon. The v710 appeared to be a truly amazing product from the manufacturer's initial feature list - Bluetooth support, Megapixel Camera, POP3 email, and Instant Messenger. That is, before Verizon decided to disable several of its features for what many believe (and what Verizon doesn't deny) was an effort to drive up revenue. If all you plan on doing is talking on the phone, you won't have any problems - the phone functions with all Verizon-approved hands-free devices. Then again, who would pay the hefty $519 list price for a phone if they just wanted to talk on it?

After buying the new v710, many consumers quickly discovered they were unable to perform several basic functions which other similarly equipped phones, from other carriers, were capable of doing. Simple functions, such as sending a phone book record to another phone or a picture to a laptop computer, exist only in some locked area of the v710 noone can access. This is because some critical Bluetooth profiles have been deactivated on the handset; primarily OBEX/OPP/Serial. These services are responsible for transferring photos and phone numbers or performing synchronization with a PC wirelessly. Lack of these feature has also caused many vehicles with Bluetooth support (such as the Prius, Acura TL, and BMW) to malfunction. The only sure-fire way to transfer anything to or from the phone, in fact, is to shell out $60 for a TransFlash memory card. Looking around for the POP3 email client or instant messenger? It was advertised as a capability by the manufacturer, but you won't find it either, because Verizon had those features switched off as well.

I decided to call up Verizon and get to the bottom of the matter, and engaged in a discussion with Verizon's Corporate Handset, Product Distribution, and Marketing honcho, Brenda Raney, asking targetted questions about many of these features and why they were not on the phone as expected. Apart from the usual "we never advertised these features" spiel, I was very shocked to see that Verizon was so up-front and open about their attitude regarding consumers.

Q. Many people feel that Verizon has specifically disabled these features to force them to use your Get-it-Now and PIX Place service.

A. And your point is?

Q. Well, these features are available in phones from many other carriers, and people feel cheated.

A. Verizon does business unlike any other carrier, and we make no apologies for that. ... [Those features] don't work with our business model. Every customer is certainly entitled to their own feelings.

Q. Do you foresee that OBEX/OPP will be enabled anytime in the near future?

A. No.

Q. The average joe can go out and fork over $60 for a TransFlash card, which will allow them to transfer pictures, MP3s, whatever...and at no profit to why not just enable these features on the phone and give the customers a break?

A. That's where the security issue comes in.

What Security Issue? I had heard this story from Verizon, which was that they were investigating security issues with the phone, but this appeared only to be an afterthought in comparison with Verizon's profitability needs. The story didn't appear to hold water, and I got the feeling she understood that. Bluetooth has some basic front-line security designed to prevent someone from arbitrarily transferring files to/from the phone without performing a "bonding" ritual. On top of this, the v710 sports a "stealth mode" where it will remain invisible from discovery unless the owner specifically makes it visible (at 60-second intervals) so there's little chance a stranger will even know it's there let alone have the MAC address. If you're still concerned about Bluejacking, the Bluetooth radio can be shut off entirely with a couple of button presses, which is what most users do anyway to conserve power. If you want Fort Knox, you got it...and even if someone did Bluejack you, they'd have to be within smacking distance.

Q. So what would you say to the consumer who paid for this phone and expected to receive [these features]?

A. [When a customer buys a phone] there's a level of risk. ... We never advertised these features.... We have a fifteen day satisfaction guarantee.

Q. When this phone is released to other carriers, will you accept their ESNs if your customers want a fully-functioning phone?

A. We don't [activate] phones unless they're ours. If Motorola sells it to another carrier, it may be the a710 or the p710. That's not our phone.

Unfortunately this conversation only confirmed my belief that Verizon's customers were nothing but cattle to be rounded up.

This isn't the first time customers have felt burned from Verizion. Verizon has developed a quite notorious reputation among mobile users for the revenue they drive from their DRM (digital rights management) campaign. While most other carriers allow you to do pretty much whatever you want with your phone, Verizon prefers to make money every time you transfer a picture, check your email, or do anything that could constitute a value-add. Verizon appears to be actively plugging loopholes as recently customers have found they can no longer email themselves ringtones or backgrounds. If you were able to send files to the person next to you using Bluetooth, you'd miss the privilege of using Verizon's PIX service (which costs $0.25 a picture). If you were able to use a true IM client for chatting, you'd only use up airtime (with free nights and weekends), and then how would you end up having to pay for Verizon's $4.95/mo TXT messaging subscription? The Verizon-provided IM client makes the unnecessary use of TXT messaging to send and receive messages, just as sending a picture through the network uses Verizon's unnecessary PIX service. If you want to do anything fun with that phone you just shelled out for, Verizon has made sure you are going to pay for it...that's the real security they seem to be concerned about.

And what about applications on the v710? Very little software is available for the new phone primarily because Verizon has continued in a long tradition of what many see as customer extortion by locking the phone's software capabilities. Verizon has joined some 35 smaller carriers to profit off of the consumer by pushing Brew on all of their phones. Brew is, to many consumers, a mediocre application platform designed to take their money. To many developers, it's a platform designed to crush free software and independent developers. It's written by Qualcomm and designed specifically to enforce the consumer's dependence on the carrier, forcing them to purchase applications only through Verizon. Qualcomm's propaganda to the carrier makes its nature obvious: Brew Equals Revenue.

The version of Brew running on the v710 is locked to require every Brew application to be digitally signed (by Verizon) in order to run, and this signature is based on the handset's ESN (electronic serial number). What's the point of doing all this you ask? Qualcomm and Verizon stand behind their anti-piracy propaganda. It must be a mere coincidence that it also locks the consumer into purchasing any games or applications only from Verizon. This effectively locks out third party software manufacturers, allows Verizon to price fix, and snuffs out entirely the independent developer who would like to develop applications for the phone. There will never be such a thing as free software for Brew because it costs developers $4 per phone to digitally sign an application (with a minimum of 100 signatures). But this is all coincidence.

v710's Redeeming Value
Fortunately, if you can live with crippled Bluetooth and lack of POP3 email or a good IM client (or if you happen to be stuck in a Verizon contract), the v710 does sport some great improvements over other Verizon phones. The remaining features of the v710 include:

Key Problems
Aside from disabled features, most of the remaining issues with the v710 are unfortunately pretty severe, and quite depressing. With a list price of $519, you'd think that Motorola would have considered some of these issues prior to release. Demand drove the phone out a few months early, but in reality I'd rather have a somewhat working phone than no phone at all - so Kudos to Motorola for at least releasing the phone, but you scored no points on QA whatsoever.

Miscellaneous Problems With the v710

Motorola Support
Naturally, many customers have taken their grievances to the Motorola Support department to try and show them the err of their ways. I contacted Motorola myself only to find their support quite bizarre. The first thing I noticed is that no matter who you speak with, everyone speaks in the same broken, foreign accent - but they all have American names like "Amy" and "Dave". The whole experience screams "witness protection" or perhaps Motorola has moved their support overseas, but assigned each employee an American name to make their customers feel more comfortable (OK Habib, you're Jake today). I guess that's the best you can do if you're too cheap to hire American workers. Anyhow, their front-line support is pretty much clueless. I recommend requesting the technical support department immediately when you call. They will at least step up and tell you that they have no idea what's going to be in the first firmware update. If you ask about any of the features Verizon has disabled, they'll tell you there is no way to activate them, or that they'll risk losing their job if they tell you. You're SOL.

The long-lived relationship between the carrier and the manufacturer is one of co-monopoly. The manufacturer (Motorola) depends on the carrier to become a sales distribution channel, and allow their phones' ESNs on their network. The carrier, in order to do this, requires that the manufacturer allow them to lock the phone up and disable whatever features they request, only instead of the carrier doing the advertising for the phone, the manufacturer assists in a bait-and-switch routine - advertising the full features of the phone, leaving Verizon with plausible deniability when you find out your phone is crippled. Agreements like these allow the carrier and the manufacturer to both share power over the consumer and lock out competition, but neither corporation has, to date, been accused of any criminal wrongdoing. This same loving carrier is also our only advocate to Motorola - Motorola's one customer. The v710 is a Verizon-owned phone, which means it is Brew-enabled, DRM-retrofitted, and functionally geared to meet Verizon's specific requirements for profitability. The fact that the phone has a few features consumers like is merely a coincidence, and sadly the phone itself lacks many other features that will most likely never be fixed.

"So What?" you may ask. The average unsuspecting consumer doesn't seem to have much of a problem being rounded up in the cattle pen. Verizon sells the phone, so they have the right to control it, right? When was the last time you purchased a laptop computer or a PDA and had IBM or HP tell you what you could or could not do with it on the Internet? The phones of today are computers, and people expect a level of functionality and privacy from them (such as Verizon's network never seeing you on the toilet after your spouse gets a hold of your phone). Nobody likes paying hundreds of dollars for something only to have someone disable features, forcing them to use a public network to transfer personal data. The sad state of the industry is that Verizon has become both service provider and hardware manufacturer, a very dangerous combination for those who expect their carrier to earn an honest living.

Isn't everyone doing this? No. There are plenty of other carriers that don't seem to have the same control issues. Most GSM carriers provide a full set of features in the phones they sell. The Bluetooth-enabled phones offered by Cingular Wireless include a full set of services, run whatever games you like, and even include an email client. Other major carriers including Sprint, T-Mobile, and AT&T provide similar quality phones lacking any significant restrictions. No, the tactics Verizon has shown to use in driving up revenue is only characteristic of the carriers in many third-world or communist countries such as China (China Unicom), Taiwan (Vibo), Argentina (Movicom), and Nicaragua (BellSouth Nicaragua) where the Orwellian philosophy has been nurtured and propagated. And if these carriers get their way, America will become just like them. These customer strong-arming tactics are what originally got Microsoft in trouble, and seems to be the signature of some now-dying carriers such as Cellular One. In America, Verizon's profitability appears to have a short life expectancy.

So is there any way to fix it? This has happened before in our country. A long time ago, the only thing people were legally allowed to plug into their phone jacks were AT&T telephones. The excuses were similar - the safety of the network, to ensure compatibility, etc. It was only after AT&T started charging consumers rental fees for telephone equipment that this ban was struck down by the courts. In today's industry, the carrier doesn't need a law preventing us from using foreign hardware. They're able to block it themselves through technology. Other countries have laws that prevent carriers from locking their phones to any specific network, so you can buy a phone and use it on any compatible network you like. This opens up the market for feature-rich third-party phones and prevents the manufacturers from getting too close to the carrier. This is probably one reason why other countries always have better mobile phone technology than us.

The Motorola v710 is like a night at the Ramada Inn. You'll find it has many of the necessities you need, but is a very average experience in the end leaving you only with a sigh of mediocrity whenever you look at your phone. In spite of its shortcomings, the Motorola v710 is a good phone if you're stuck with Verizon for one reason or another. Unfortunately, most of the v710's users won't have the pleasure of being able to enjoy many of its features, thanks to Verizon. Moo!

v710 Hacker Reward Program
I have put together a v710 Hacker's pot. To win the pot, you have to provide us with a way to enable working OBEX and OPP Bluetooth profiles on the Verizon v710 (this includes providing any software that may be necessary). I'm kicking in $100 of my own cash to start this pot off. See the official site for more information.

v710 Volume Hack
This reportedly works on most v710 handsets, but some are already at max. It worked greaet on my personal handset: