Rumors have been running wild – but we have received multiple independent reports direct to PhoneNews.com that Verizon may, effective tomorrow, prohibit devices from being activated unless they are certified by Verizon.
Verizon has claimed to MVNOs that this was policy all-along, but acknowledged that until now, it was only enforced on Verizon Wireless customers directly – and not MVNOs like Page Plus Cellular.
Both TracFone and Page Plus, for years, didn’t certify all their devices. The ones that were certified, were typically Verizon overstock that was discontinued, and then converted to new-old-stock that the MVNOs sold to lower-class consumers on prepaid.
The rest of their devices were basically CDMA device imports from just about everywhere, including Latin American carriers. Motorola specials that didn’t sell there, became prepaid phones over here. Even some devices from as far as Korea have been sold here in English firmware and generic shells.
Now, those devices are reporting “ESN Unknown” (instead of “ESN Clear”) when trying to activate.
TracFone reportedly has received a reprieve – but considering TracFone’s largess, reports are that Verizon has given TracFone until year’s end to submit, pay, and certify each and every device that they wish to before the banhammer is imposed.
In some cases, it will likely be cheaper for both TracFone and Page Plus, to offer to replace uncertified devices with new ones. Certification can cost tens of thousands of dollars, and most of these devices have not been sold (or likely, used) in years.
Geeks Get Hit Hardest
There are two popular hacks geeks on Page Plus Cellular like to do.
The first is taking prepaid devices from other networks, in rare cases, modifying them to work. With Verizon’s last 3G-only smartphone on postpay being the Droid Incredible 2… Verizon users have been importing CDMA smartphones from other networks.
Verizon does offer the Moto G on prepaid – but Verizon-sold prepaid devices are subject to a six month wait before they can be used on other MVNO networks, like Page Plus.
The most popular route of late, has been to take the Boost Mobile Moto G, and flash it with Verizon Wireless firmware. This is made easy thanks to Motorola’s Google-backed bootloader unlocking policies, and the fact that the Moto G on Boost and Verizon have identical hardware.
The second hack of choice is for 4G LTE phones – people want an Android superphone that works with dirt-cheap Page Plus voice rates, and pervasive Verizon coverage. But Verizon won’t let Page Plus do 4G LTE (more on that in a bit).
The fix, has been to hack these phones to disable the 4G LTE radio, and enumerate the device as a 3G CDMA phone – complete with grafting on a donor MEID (ESN) in many cases.
This is probably legal, though it depends on your interpretation of the Telecommunications Consumer Protection Act (TCPA) and specifically who is an “authorized user” to edit the MEID of a device.
The NSA may be involved here. Being able to flash a 4G LTE phone with a MEID of some random device could allow a terrorist to communicate with impunity. This is done with so-called “StingRay” tower spoofers that register the ESNs of devices as they enter range of the phony tower.
Putting it simply, Verizon may have been asked to block such behavior more aggressively.
With proper A-Key implementations, and enforcing valid MEIDs and IMEIs to the specific devices, it will be much harder (if not impossible) to pull this off. This public move may be one step along the chain to enforcing better device-ESN-network chain of custody protocols.
With GSM phones, this is much more difficult as the IMEI edits would still correspond to the ICCID of a SIM card. But CDMA networks in America do not use SIM cards for CDMA calls – only for international calls and for LTE.
Obviously, involvement of the federal government is speculation – but it would match recent government moves to obscure the public knowledge of StingRay implementations – even potentially in defiance of court orders. The US Marshals recently abducted a StingRay device from a municipality after the ACLU secured a court order allowing it to examine the device.
While better device security is nice, geeks will lose the ability to import non-Verizon devices to Page Plus if this takes place.
It’s possible Verizon may have to delay this move for Page Plus, much as they did with TracFone apparently. But, you still as of today can park any CDMA device onto a Page Plus account. As with previous lockdowns, as long as the ESN and account stay active and in good standing, it likely will be grandfathered in.
The best news of all is that rumors, which unlike the above, PhoneNews.com cannot independently verify, is 4G LTE may be coming to Page Plus. This would be a major shift in strategy from Verizon’s previous (and recent) statements that MVNO wholesale would remain CDMA-only for the long-term.
PhoneNews.com did contact Verizon Wireless about this subject when we first heard about it – Verizon declined to comment.