[Opinion] All unlocked phones sold in the US should support all carriers. No more excuses!

I’ll just get to the point with my little rant. If you’re going to sell an unlocked phone in the US, it needs to support all four major carriers – Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile (and Sprint, I guess). There’s no excuse at this point to keep riding the GSM-only train and the companies that do should be blackballed until they change their tune. If a brand like Alcatel can easily sell the Idol 5S (above) on Amazon for $279.99 that’s compatible with all US carriers, why does OnePlus continue with their GSM-only nonsense in a market they heavily push themselves in? Are they really not aware that Verizon is the biggest and most popular carrier in the country? Two words… Laziness and incompetence.


Motorola/Lenovo have proven for years that it’s cheap and easy to sell unlocked phones that support all carriers. The Moto G5 Plus (above) is a perfect example. It can be had for $199.99 at Best Buy for the 32GB version and just $179.99 on Amazon for a Prime Exclusive edition with lock screen ads. If you’re okay with those ads, Amazon has the 64GB version with 4GB of RAM for just $199.99. Adding compatibility for Verizon (and Sprint) obviously isn’t a significant expense as Alcatel and Motorola clearly demonstrate. Want to go even cheaper? The fully compatible Moto E4 can be had for just $129.99 at Best Buy and as low as $99.99 on Amazon with lock screen ads. “It’s too expensive” is nothing but a myth and line of nonsense from lazy companies.

“Certification” is another favorite word from the indolent companies out there. They claim that it’s “just too hard to get certification from Verizon and Sprint, and that’s why our device is GSM-only.” That’s as much of a myth as the “too expensive” excuse. The only phones that need Verizon or Sprint certifications are the ones actually sitting on Verizon or Sprint shelves. In addition to the examples from Alcatel and Motorola, let’s take a quick look at the Essential Phone (above). This one had a troubled start with multiple launch delays and software issues and is the first phone from a brand new company. And with all of that, it still launched with compatibility for all US carriers. Do you honestly think they added “certification” headaches to an already difficult first launch? Ironically, they tried to use a similar excuse to explain the launch delays, but it turned out to be manufacturing problems.

The only difference between an unlocked phone that works on Verizon (and Sprint) and a phone that’s in Verizon’s lineup is how the SIM card is first used. Most people that buy an unlocked phone for Verizon will already have Verizon service and can simply use their current SIM card in the new device. That’s it. They never have to call or otherwise deal with the carrier. The only thing you usually can’t do is take an unlocked device to Verizon and have a new line of service activated for it. You’ll need an already active SIM card. And that nonsense from Verizon and Sprint is another article entirely. Anyway, that’s the difference between an unlocked device and “certified” device. With all the Nexus and Motorola and Alcatel and Essential, etc. phones out there that are compatible with Verizon and Sprint, this has rarely been a complained about bottleneck (although there’s always that handful that complain about everything). And with a little effort, there are ways to get an activated SIM card if needed.

Let’s go back to OnePlus for a minute. They’re no rookie at this point and just launched the 5T for $499 with a big push in the US market. And yet, even with the Essential Phone launching from a brand new company with full carrier support, they’re still selling GSM-only devices in the US. It’s inexcusable. If they had to charge a few dollars more for a universally compatible device, they would not only retain virtually all US sales but would add thousands of Verizon and Sprint customers as well. Revenue and profits would soar. With their reputation and popularity already established, why continue to cut off half of potential US customers with GSM-only laziness? Get your act together, OnePlus. This is the opposite of “Never Settle.”

The new Razer Phone is another GSM-only unlocked device, one that’s also significantly marketed in the US. Alcatel, Motorola, LG (Nexus) and others have already taken the “it’s too expensive” excuse away. And Essential has destroyed the “but… we’re new” excuse as well. It’s kind of shocking that they launched this with such a handicap, again cutting off half of potential US customers right off the bat. And for $699, it’s not a cheap phone, either. What was CEO Min-Liang Tan thinking? “Let’s make an already niche phone even more niche and cut US sales in half?” Good idea.

I know some of you are thinking, “But the US isn’t the only market in the world” and “Get over yourself, you conceited American.” My counterargument is this… The US is one of the most important markets in the world and Verizon Wireless is a very influential carrier. I’m aware that most regions run on GSM networks, and Verizon’s and Sprint’s last grip on CDMA is ridiculous in and of itself. Regardless of the fact that they should’ve dropped it years ago, it’s still in place and easy to adapt to. Not only are companies like OnePlus and Razer separating half of the US market into “you can buy” and “you can’t buy” segments, they’re destroying goodwill with consumers, and that’s something they might never get back. These GSM-only holdouts need to drop the excuses already and put in that tiny bit of extra effort. They’ll make more money in the process. And isn’t that what it’s all about?

On a happier note, if you’re looking for a phone to give as a gift this year, check out our smartphone Holiday Gift Guide for some great recommendations. If you’re on AT&T or T-Mobile and interested in the OnePlus 5T, Jared just posted an excellent review. For Verizon customers, the unlocked Moto G5 Plus or Alcatel Idol 5S are incredible buys.


About the Author: Erik Slaven

He was born and raised in Virginia, but escaped to Southern CA. Started out as a BlackBerry addict until he bought HTC’s Droid Eris and never looked back. He's owned dozens of Android devices and can rarely settle on a daily driver for more than a few months. He's currently using a Galaxy S8 and BlackBerry KEYone. He rides motorcycles for fun and would live on the beach if it was legal. Marketing and freelance pr help keep the lights on.


  • NoNotTellingYou

    Meh, works for me. Fuck Verizon.

    • Erik Slaven

      Verizon is apparently the biggest carrier in the world and topped China Mobile this year. Forbes lists them and AT&T as the world’s top telecom companies for 2017. Hate them all you want, but that’s the current reality. Ignoring them is foolish…