The advent of mobile broadband in 2008 will push every mobile network operator to open its network to a wide range of devices, not just those offered by the carriers themselves, IDC says.

In making their industry predictions for 2008, IDC made the case that many different factors will push carriers toward more openness, including the advent of smart phones, the wide array of mobile web gadgets expected to hit the market in the near future, and the presence of the Open Handset Alliance, a multinational group with more than 30 members dedicated to promoting Google's open-access Android platform.

The result of this openness will mark an end to the "walled garden" model for mobile web services that internet guru Tim Berners-Lee warned about last month at the Mobile Internet World conference in Boston. Under the walled garden model, subscribers can connect only to networks using devices approved by the carrier, and can only use carrier-authorised applications on those devices.

Verizon seemingly preempted IDC's prediction last week after it announced it would give its customers the option of connecting to its network through outside devices. Verizon spokeswoman Nancy Stark said at the time that the company had actually been thinking about opening its network for a while because it saw that a "small but growing" number of customers wanted to connect to Verizon's network without having to use a Verizon device.

Earlier this week, USA Today reported that AT&T was "flinging its cellphone network wide open" and allowing its customers to connect using any device they wanted. However, Bryan Gardiner of Wired's Epicenter blog noted that because AT&T is a GSM carrier, AT&T users already could connect to the carrier's network using non-AT&T phones simply by putting their SIM card into a different device. Devices from rival carriers that use technology such as CDMA still cannot connect with AT&T's network.

An AT&T spokesman told Wired that AT&T Wireless CEO Ralph de la Vega's statement that "you can use any handset on our network you want" was meant to be taken only "in the context of what customers could currently do".

Web gadget explosion

In addition to the prediction about carriers opening up their networks, IDC predicted an explosion in the use of several different web gadgets that will "bridge the gap between PCs and smartphones." Several of these devices, such as Amazon's Kindle e-book reader and the iPod touch, have hit the market already. IDC expects that vendors such as Asus, Qisda (BenQ), Compal, Electrobit, and major software companies, such as Microsoft and Apple, will launch "dozens" of similar types of Web gadgets in 2008.

Some of IDC's other major predictions for 2008 are:

- Worsening US economic forecasts will lead to slower worldwide IT market growth. IDC projects that overall, the IT market will grow by 5.5 per cent to 6 per cent worldwide, while US IT spending could drop 3-4 per cent.

- Major market movers, such as Microsoft, Cisco, Google and IBM, will move strongly into the software-as-a-service market.

- The spread of Web 2.0 technology, such as Facebook and YouTube , will spur the market for content distribution networks to grow by "at least 30 per cent." This rapid market growth will mean that several companies, including telcos such as AT&T, will jump into the CDN market and compete with traditional CDN leaders Akamai and Limelight Networks.

- Companies that traditionally have focused on consumer markets, including Google, eBay, Yahoo and Apple, will begin making offerings to small-to-midsize businesses. Conversely, companies such as IBM, which have traditionally focused on enterprise markets, will begin thinking of how to market services and products to consumers.