Verizon Will Soon Resume Carrier-Locking Its Smartphones Over Theft Concerns

Phone theft and the theft of phone numbers is a real thing that everyday Americans deal with all the time. T-Mobile warned its customers recently of a SIM jacking scam that threatens the entire industry. Verizon has now announced that it is taking another step to help protect its customers. Verizon has announced that it will begin to lock its phones to its network alone. This is known as handset locking and it will prevent you from being able to use a SIM card from another carrier in your Verizon smartphone.

The carrier locking plans were announced today and will begin later this spring. As for why Verizon is doing this, it says that the move will deter criminals from stealing phones on route to retail stores or from the stores themselves.


"We're taking steps to combat this theft and reduce fraud," Tami Erwin, executive vice president of wireless operations for Verizon, said in a statement. "These steps will make our phones exponentially less desirable to criminals."

The real impact of this decision will be felt by Verizon customers who frequently travel overseas and use SIM cards from other carriers while away. Rather than the SIM cards just working as they do now, users will soon need to contact Verizon to unlock the devices. It's not clear how long the unlocking will take, but presumably, it’s not instant.

This move is a reversal of how Verizon normally operates, and it seems like a departure from an agreement that it has in place with the FCC after Verizon acquired the "C" block of 700 MHz spectrum for its LTE network. One section of that deal specifically bars Verizon from carrier locking its devices.

The section in question reads:

(e)Handset locking prohibited. No licensee may disable features on handsets it provides to customers, to the extent such features are compliant with the licensee’s standards pursuant to paragraph (b)of this section, nor configure handsets it provides to prohibit use of such handsets on other providers’ networks.

Verizon says, "This change does not impact the spirit of that agreement as it is designed to deter theft by those who engage in identity theft or other fraud," said a spokeswoman for Verizon. "It is not inconsistent with our obligations under the C Block."

The carrier hasn’t stated if it has asked the FCC if it feels the change violates the agreement. Verizon has said more details will be coming closer to the roll-out date for carrier locking.