One of the wireless industries best kept secrets has always been that Verizon is the only carrier that sells their SmartPhones totally unlocked. Why would they do this when none of the other carriers did? This was a mandatory concession that they were forced to make when they petitioned the FCC to allow them to acquire 700mHZ bandwidth for 4G LTE.
This morning, Verizon decided they "want to help prevent iPhone theft" and will begin locking their SmartPhones again. I guarantee that they would have never tried this when Tom Wheeler, was the acting FCC Chairman. Verizon and the rest of the wireless industry powers wrongly thought that having an FCC Chairman that was a former President of one of their trade groups, the CTIA (Cellular Telephone Industry Association), would benefit them, not consumers. It turned out that Tom Wheeler did far more for consumers than the carriers. That's why AT&T and Verizon were probably jumping up and down doing cartwheels when the POTUS installed Ajit Pai as his new FCC Director. Mr Pai's top priority was to reverse Mr Wheeler's Net Neutrality policy and re-establish their "Old Boys" relationship.
What I find almost humorous is the fact that Verizon either forgot, or totally ignores the fact that they, along with the other carriers and the CTIA joined together to include antitheft tools making it all but impossible to unlock and reuse these phones. If Verizon is to be believed, thieves would be asking their victims what network their phones were with before stealing them. As Apple does not allow carrier branding on their devices, it is impossible to tell which carrier an iPhone is with by looking at the device. My colleagues at CNN did an interesting article about this.
Why does any of this matter and who gets the short end of the stick? The rest of the industry is watching. Now that the FCC has reversed Net Neutrality and turned over wireless issues to the FTC, I doubt there will be any fines or negative repercussions for Verizon, even though they would appear to be in violation of their "C-Block" agreement.
To make matters worse, even if you were to pay off your device in full, most carriers require a minimum 40-60 days depending on carrier, before they will even unlock your device. T-Mobile is 30 days, Sprint 40 days and AT&T is 60 days. That means if you are traveling overseas and want to purchase an overseas SIM card, forget it or plan well ahead. Same if you want to move your device to another carrier. You will now need to contact Verizon who will need to contact Apple to unlock it in their Network Operation Command center.
Update - While Dr Wireless is no longer in the Cellular activation business, we did hear some important news that Verizon Wireless subscribers need to know. Apparently, our friends at JoyofAndroid.com have said that Verizon's best kept secret of not locking their devices just came to an end. If you have a new Verizon device that you need to use on another wireless network, you better visit their site.
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Joel Saltzman has over twenty years of wireless industry experience. He is currently CEO and Chief Wireless Analyst for Dr Wireless.