Suing Over Crippled Bluetooth
By Mike Masnick, Fri Jan 07 01:00:00 GMT 2005

Over the last few months there have been many complaints that Verizon Wireless "crippled" Bluetooth on certain phones. Some Verizon Wireless customers want to settle the issue in court.

In the US, the nationwide CDMA operators, Sprint and Verizon Wireless, have been notoriously slow in offering Bluetooth-enabled handsets. When Verizon Wireless finally got around to doing so, one of the first things people noticed was that the company had disabled certain Bluetooth profiles -- specifically ones that would let users connect the phone directly to a PC to transfer content from the phone to the PC. These aren't required by the Bluetooth spec, but it did feel like bait and switch to some users who figured that support for these profiles was expected. Plenty of people started pointing out that Verizon Wireless was offering "crippled" Bluetooth, since it didn't do what most people expected of Bluetooth.

Verizon Wireless' reasoning, of course, was that it didn't fit with its business model, which involved encouraging people to do data transfers over the network. If users could transfer directly to a PC, then there would be fewer reasons to transfer over the network. Or, at least that's how the marketing folks at Verizon Wireless figured it would work. They, perhaps, didn't consider that it might have the opposite effect as well. By not enabling features to allow transferring data to a PC, the phone becomes noticeably less useful to a large group of people as a data device of any kind. This means fewer people will buy it and those that do may be less inclined to transfer any data off of it, whether over the network or directly to a PC. Mobile data is still an emerging space, and users are still figuring out how it's going to work. Forcing users to do things one way (especially when that way is more expensive) seems like a shortsighted way to go about things. If anything, it seems likely to drive people to competitors.

However, buyers of the device felt that by claiming that Bluetooth was enabled on the device, Verizon Wireless implied full support, and not partial support. The lack of support for certain profiles didn't just cause problems with moving data off the device, but there were also problems getting it to work with certain Bluetooth-enabled cars. While users had the ability to return the phone within 15-days if they weren't satisfied, not everyone felt that was sufficient. On top of that, a few even reported that Verizon Wireless representatives told them not to return it, because the situation with the profiles would be "corrected" at a future date -- though the company has shown little indication that its planning to do so.

While it's been rumored about for a while, Slashdot is now claiming a class action lawsuit has been filed against Verizon Wireless, claiming the company falsely advertised Bluetooth support, implying full support for these other profiles.

It's understandable why some users would be upset. Verizon Wireless clearly has made Bluetooth less useful on these phones. What's not clear at all, is whether or not it's done anything illegal. The company never claimed it supported these profiles, and it's a bit murky as to whether or not your average consumer would simply assume that Bluetooth support implied support of these profiles. Perhaps a more reasonable strategy would be something similar to what happened when Sprint announced the Treo 650. There was a loud public outcry from many people claiming that they would not buy the device if Sprint insisted on crippling Bluetooth to disallow dialup networking. As more people picked up on this story, Sprint responded quickly saying it would support the Bluetooth profile -- and simply hadn't done so initially because there hadn't been enough time to test it properly. While there was some debate over whether Sprint planned to support it all along, or if it was a case of backtracking in the face of public pressure, Sprint eventually realized it made sense to offer full support, rather than crippled. Users who are upset with Verizon Wireless' lack of support might be better served working up a convincing case to persuade Verizon Wireless that it's in the company's own best interest to not cripple Bluetooth, rather than just taking the company to court.