One of the particularly annoying pain points for travelers who want to use Verizon Wireless’ 4G LTE service is that none of the handsets offered by the carrier include global GSM and WCDMA (UMTS HSPA+) support. Even devices that manufacturers had tested with GSM and WCDMA support by the FCC (who must authorize radio equipment to be sold in the United States) wound up on the shelves without the ability to use the built-in support.
Needless to say, this made people who wanted LTE world phones rather upset. However, Verizon Wireless likely did it for a single reason: carrier lock-in. It all ties into the rules that the FCC placed on the 700MHz C block spectrum that Verizon Wireless bought to run its network on. According to the regulations, Verizon Wireless is prohibited from disabling features on devices it provides to its customers. This is explicitly extended to include enabling features and crippling them.
In the past, Verizon Wireless offered special “world phones” with GSM, WCDMA, and CDMA2000 support. However, the radio firmware always had a built-in block for the United States’ mobile country code. This ensured that the GSM and WCDMA radios would not permit the device to work on US carriers (other than Verizon). It did not have to worry about the CDMA2000 radio, since that is always custom programmed for the carrier network it is intended for, and is not likely to work well on other networks. This is absolutely not allowed for any device Verizon Wireless wishes to offer that supports its 4G LTE network.
The regulations also seem to forbid SIM subsidy locks (also known as network locks). With that in mind, Verizon Wireless would be extremely hesitant to offer global GSM and WCDMA support on its 4G LTE phones. The main reason no one takes his/her 4G LTE device to another carrier is because no other carrier has a 4G LTE network that is compatible with the device. That impediment doesn’t even require a SIM subsidy lock, but with an unlocked device that has GSM and WCDMA support, consumers would be free to purchase Verizon Wireless 4G LTE global devices and actually pick which carrier to use them on. That is a bit too much power in the hands of the consumer, which Verizon does not want. US carriers thrive on the ability to impede consumers from getting the device they want and using it on a carrier of their choosing.
Something must have happened at Verizon Wireless, because it has changed its tune about global GSM and WCDMA support on 4G LTE devices. In February, Verizon Wireless enabled full global roaming capabilities in the Motorola Xyboard 8.2 and 10.1 tablets. In a statementVerizon Wireless announced that the following devices will get full global roaming capabilities this summer:
- Motorola Droid Razr
- Motorola Droid Razr Maxx
- Motorola Droid 4
- HTC Rezound
Aside from the HTC Rezound (which only has quad band GSM and dual band WCDMA for European 3G networks), all of these devices support quad band GSM and WCDMA for global roaming all over the Americas, Europe, and Asia.
Additionally, these devices will not have the mobile country code block. That means that they will operate on AT&T’s HSPA network. And of course, T-Mobile’s HSPA+ network will support them too after it refarms its spectrum to launch PCS HSPA+ and AWS LTE. The phones will work on both carriers’ GSM networks, too.
There is one more device in Verizon’s current lineup that is also due for an update that brings full global roaming support. Back at CES, Verizon Wireless announced that the LG Spectrum would also get its GSM and WCDMA radios enabled in a future update. The timing for that update has not yet been announced. The LG Spectrum has a quad band GSM radio and a tri band WCDMA radio for full roaming in Europe and limited roaming in the Americas and Asia. This device will partially work on AT&T’s HSPA network in certain areas, but it will work with T-Mobile’s HSPA+ network after refarming. And it will work on both carriers’ GSM networks, too.
When any of these devices are used on T-Mobile’s network, they will be able to use the carrier’s new nationwide IPv6 network.
It is quite likely that someone may have investigated and reported to the FCC that Verizon Wireless violated the terms of the network spectrum license when these devices rolled out without full global roaming. This would have forced Verizon’s hand and made it enable those radios for everyone. Otherwise, we would probably have not seen 4G LTE world phones for quite some time (probably only after Europe rolls out LTE).