Top U.S. wireless carrier Verizon will temporarily network-lock all of the mobile phones it sells in an effort to deter theft and fraud, according to a Cnet report today. The move comes after years of a more relaxed policy whereby Verizon sold customers unlocked phones, immediately enabling their use on rival domestic and overseas cellular networks. According to Verizon, phones will begin to arrive locked by default, an initial change intended to reduce the theft of new phones that are either en route to or sitting inside stores. Verizon is also making a second change this spring: implementing an unspecified wait period for unlocking in an effort to stop scammers from using stolen identities to sign up for services, get new phones, then immediately sell the phones and disappear. Assuming that the theft and fraud problems are as serious as Verizon suggests, the new policies appear to be reasonably consumer-friendly. Until the second change happens in spring, Verizon will automatically unlock a new phone as soon as a customer signs up and activates service. In spring, once the waiting period is in effect, the unlock will happen either manually or automatically after a yet-to-be-specified period of time. This will likely only inconvenience people who plan to travel internationally and use foreign SIM cards soon after buying the phone. As Cnet notes, all of the other major U.S. carriers have unlock waiting periods ranging from 40 to 60 days after the device has been fully paid off. Unlike its rivals, however, Verizon says that it will unlock the phone after the waiting period regardless of whether its paid off. Verizon has an agreement with the FCC not to limit its handsets ability to work on rival networks, which the company claims — perhaps incorrectly — that its new locking policies will follow, at least in spirit.
Verizon has historically been one of the best carriers when it comes to selling unlocked phones — every major smartphone it offers comes unlocked out of the box — but that generous policy is changing, according to a report from CNET. Verizon is now set to revert to selling carrier-locked phones in what it claims is an attempt to combat theft. The new policy will roll out in steps. First, Verizon will lock phones initially, unlocking them once customers finish the activation process, which would be in line with the companys explanation of preventing thieves from stealing phones from retail stores. Sometime this spring, Verizon will be instituting a wait period, where new phones will be locked to Verizon for an unspecified amount of time before customers will be able to unlock them. The company has yet to detail how long customers will need to wait or whether theyll have to submit manual requests to have their phones unlocked. But its hard not to view the longer wait period as more hostile to consumers, since its not obvious how making customers wait longer to unlock their devices will prevent people from stealing phone from Verizon trucks and storerooms. That said, it is a policy thats more or less in line with how the other major US carriers function. Sprint requires that devices be active on the Sprint network for a minimum of 50 days before it will unlock the device, although for devices launched after February 2015, Sprint will automatically unlock phones when they become eligible without requiring users to submit a manual requests. AT&T has the strictest rules, requiring that the phone be active for at least 60 days. Theres an additional caveat that if users have upgraded to a new phone, they still need to wait 14 days before AT&T will unlock the old phone theyve upgraded from. T-Mobile requires that a device be active at least 40 days, with a limit of two unlock requests per line per year. Verizon has said that itll provide more details on the extended wait period closer to when it rolls out the new policy, although the company hasnt offered any details on when that will be aside from the vague spring date. But if youre planning on getting a Verizon phone, its definitely something to be aware of going forward.