Google’s latest phone officially launched yesterday, and for the third time, Verizon is the only carrier selling the new Pixels directly. In past years, Verizon has sold SIM-unlocked Pixels that worked on every carrier — indeed, all its phones were unlocked because of a legal agreement it made a decade ago. However, the Pixel 3 and 3 XL appear to be the first high-profile Verizon phones subject to its new, murky SIM locking policy. If you buy a Verizon Pixel, it’s really only going to work on Verizon at first.
The Pixel 3 and 3 XL include the necessary modem hardware to work on all major US carriers. If you purchase the Pixel from the Google Store, you get what you’d expect: a phone that accepts any SIM card. Early reports say that Verizon Pixels purchased at Best Buy on launch day will only work with Verizon SIM cards out of the box. The same probably goes for the Verizon Pixels in Verizon stores, but reps usually won’t even sell those to non-subscribers. The last two generations of Pixel phones on Verizon were SIM-unlocked, but the bootloader (a low-level security feature that prevents software mods) was not unlockable like Google’s version.
All the other phones currently available on Verizon are unlocked, but that might not be the case for much longer. The carrier has been forced to sell its LTE phones unlocked for years because of the 2008 US government spectrum auction. That’s when Verizon acquired its 700MHz Block C license, which is more commonly known as LTE band 13. Google placed large bids in that auction to ensure the Block C license carried the FCC’s proposed “open access” rules, requiring that the winner would not block any of its Block C devices from operating on other networks. Verizon agreed to that when it won the auction.
Now, the FCC under chairman Ajit Pai has shown little interest in holding ISPs and carriers accountable. After repealing net neutrality, it’s unlikely the FCC will go after Verizon for violating the open access rules. And that is, without a doubt, what it’s doing.
Verizon first announced its intention to SIM lock phones again early this year. It claimed the move was to reduce phone thefts in transit — regardless of the rationale, it’s still hostile to consumers. Early buyers report that Verizon reps are saying the phone must be activated and used on Verizon for at least 24 hours before the carrier will unlock it. Although, Verizon hasn’t made any official statements yet. Its website still lists the (now incorrect) pledge that it will not SIM lock any LTE devices.
If Verizon gets away with this, and it probably will, the wait to have your Verizon phone unlocked will likely get much longer. There may even be more locked phones already for sale at Verizon, but this appears to be the first major launch under the new, unannounced policy. Luckily, unlocked phones are cheaper than they were in 2008. You should buy your phone elsewhere if swapping SIM cards is important to you.
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