Carrier bloat … if you have a Smartphone, you probably know exactly what I’m talking about. Carrier bloat usually takes the form of targeted mobile marketing applications that encompass everything from sports and shopping, to games and movies. The apps are baked into the phone’s software,  often run by default, can’t be removed and worst of all, gobble up precious storage space, CPU cycles and battery life. Simply put, carrier bloat holds your phone hostage.

I’m a big fan of rooting Smartphones by loading a custom ROM that strips away all the non-essential garbage the carriers preload onto each device. It’s amazing how much longer your battery will run, as well as how much more talk and text time you will have, when the added overhead of carrier bloat is removed. Why does it suck up so many resources? The bloatware is constantly dialing home to check on updates and frequently reports back to the carrier regarding what you’re up to (*cough* CIQ  *cough*). I guess I’m just one of those old school guys that believes when you purchase a device, you own the hardware and have total control over what is running on the device. What a novel concept!

If I don’t like the underwater basket weaving app included with the phone, I shouldn’t have to put up with Sprint, T-Mobile, or AT&T’s version of that app for the life of the product. I paid several hundred dollars for the hardware and I have a say in what the phone is or isn’t running. I didn’t pay the carrier to spy on my activities or offer me products and services that I don’t care for or use. I’m paying these clowns to provide me with voice and data service … that’s it. And when I root a device and strip it bare, I’m getting exactly what I want and technically what everyone thinks they’re paying for.

Not surprisingly, I’m not alone in this line of reasoning. XDA Developers has at this time a little over 4.4 million members. The site specifically caters to custom ROM development for pretty much every Smartphone you can buy today. Developers on this site figure out how to root the devices and then customize the software loaded onto each device. The real kicker here is the carriers and mobile device manufacturers watch this site very closely as it is often XDA who manages to load new versions of Android on older phones and extend the usefulness and security of said phone before the carrier gives up on it entirely.

Take the HTC Evo 4G for example. HTC had stated they weren’t sure if the device was capable of running Gingerbread. It wasn’t until someone on XDA had successfully ported it over from a ROM on a newer HTC phone that HTC announced a few months later that it was releasing an official update that would upgrade the Evo 4G to Gingerbread.

Luckily, the times be changing!

Google started a little pilot project last month involving Google Wallet and a completely unlocked carrier-independent Samsung Galaxy Nexus smartphone. The phone has no carrier bloat and no carrier contract. It’s simply a pay as you go GSM device that works on any GSM network (AT&T and T-Mobile here in the US). You pay for your minutes through Google wallet and Google reimburses the carrier for your used bandwidth. It’s being described as “Android in pure unadulterated goodness.”

For light phone users this is a perfect phone. You essentially pay for only the time you spend on data and voice usage with no carrier bloat eating away at your data minutes … it only uses what you tell it to use.  For guys like me that are heavy data users and who rely on unlimited data access plans (I spend a lot of time on customer sites using my phone for network access), this will be a very expensive device. It’s not quite there yet for us, but it’s a good step in the right direction for many other users.

The goal of this project is to take control of the device out of the hands of the carrier who ideally should only be involved in providing voice and data services and not dictating to the customer what they can or cannot run on said device. And it’s not like this is the first time a communications provider has taken advantage of its power.

This was a particularly sore point I had with Comcast cable service. They would outright block Netflix at times or downgrade the network traffic to the popular streaming website to the point their product was unusable. Comcast isn’t happy that Netflix is giving Comcast customers options. They want to maintain a closed market environment and don’t like competition for their OnDemand product offering. Like many other consumers, as soon as DSL was available in my area I kicked Comcast to the curb. I voted with my wallet and went with a more open carrier.

Sadly there are those out there that live in locations where Comcast is the only option and they are therefore stuck with a monopolizing provider. Up until Google started their exciting new project, a large percentage of smartphone owners were at the mercy of their carriers for what exactly is installed and running on their phones.

If you’re a Smartphone user who is tired of a carrier who manipulates your phone, it’s time for you to vote with your wallet as well and switch to a phone that doesn’t hold you hostage.