U.S. carrier Verizon will be going back to locking down phones that it sells, albeit temporarily, in order to deter would-be thieves. In a statement provided to CNET, Verizon said it will sell phones locked, then issue an update to unlock them after a little while, though the period between the purchase and unlocking remains undisclosed. The update will apparently come in much the same way as any system update, and customers will not need to ask for it or do anything special, aside from applying the update as if it were a simple security patch or leaving their handsets to do so automatically. The company will be making the change this spring and will be releasing more information on the matter before the new practice goes into effect.
Historically, Verizon has sold its device unlocked since acquiring C-Block 700MHz spectrum for its LTE network. As part of the condition for using that spectrum, carriers are not allowed to configure their phones to be permanently unusable on another carrier’s network. According to Verizon, locking the phones down temporarily falls within the bounds of the agreement. The carrier stated that the main issues being tackled here are fraudsters opening accounts with stolen identities and then selling off the handsets that they acquired with subsidies, though having phones locked from the factory will also help to deter normal physical theft involving a crook simply getting their hands on one or more devices.
Verizon has a long history of locking down its phones’ bootloaders and other features meant to make them function outside of the way that the wireless carrier would want them to on its network. This return to locking down sold phones puts it back in line with other carriers in that regard, though it’s worth noting that the carrier did not state whether it will allow customers to call in and have phones unlocked early or temporarily in order to travel with them and use foreign SIM cards, one of the most common use cases for unlocked devices. It will also still accept customers’ own unlocked devices onto its network. This change will almost certainly have an effect on the secondhand smartphone market; you don’t have to look far to find unlocked Verizon-branded devices for sale, sometimes at cheaper price points than the same device from other carriers or even manufacturers themselves. With phone thieves being forced out of that market, the amount of Verizon devices out for sale could decrease, and used handset prices might be driven up by the lack of ill-gotten devices being eagerly unloaded at deep discounts.