Will Verizon block other devices from their LTE network?

Taylor Martin
 from  Concord, NC
| December 21, 2010

When I first heard about LTE and how US carriers were looking into adopting it, I got excited, but not about network speeds. One simple thought crossed my mind; choosing my phone first, then choosing my carrier. In a perfect world, that's how things should work, but the major carriers in the US are determined to keep that from happening. Pure choice is not what we have here. Our choices are diluted by exclusivities and carriers taking different technology paths.

We now see T-Mobile pursuing HSPA+ with plans to move to LTHE later, Sprint is sticking with WiMAX for now, and Verizon is running as fast as they can with their LTE technology. AT&T is currently making a temporary move to HSPA+ but plan to make the LTE jump in the middle of next year. When AT&T finally makes the move and if Sprint ever decides to scrap their WiMAX network for LTE or LTE Advanced, you could theoretically buy a Verizon, AT&T, or Sprint LTE phone and choose your carrier. That is, if they don't go out of their way to keep you from doing so.

The beauty of Verizon switching to a SIM based technology is the ability to easily switch devices, like GSM carriers right now. If you have two LTE devices, switching between them is as simple as swapping the SIM cards. However, there is a catch. LTE SIM cards can be forced tell the carrier what device they are in, so if one of those devices is not a Verizon LTE device, all it would take is for Big Red to keep you from using that device on their network is block any device that they don't have on their lineup. This dream of using any LTE phone on any LTE network would be crushed in an instant.

The question to be asked here is why would a carrier (Verizon specifically) disallow the use of another carrier's equipment on their network? Verizon would still be making their money even if the device being used has an AT&T label stamped on it. They could obviously be trying to protect the customer service employees from a barrage of customers using unsupported devices from another carrier. Since the employees can't provide technical help to someone using a device they are unfamiliar with, customers would be left on their own. But a customer should expect that. If you buy a MP3 player from Target, you wouldn't take it back to Wal-Mart if you had a problem with it or needed technical support.

Unfortunately, what it likely amounts to is US wireless service providers' love for subsidized phones and contracts. They've proven time and time again that they want their users to be locked into contracts. To keep customers locked in, some carriers have raised early termination fees, upped early upgrade fees, and even raised the off-contract price of some devices.

It's a little unnerving. Carriers and manufacturers appear to be taking what little choice we have away, whether it's what device we want on which carrier or even what we want to do with a device after we've purchase it. Do you think Verizon and other carriers will lock down their LTE networks for their devices specifically? I'm almost certain they will, but there doesn't seem to be an adequate explanation as to why they would or should.