HTC One Developer Edition Is a Bogus Unlocked Phone

HTC One Developer Edition

HTC today announced the HTC One Developer Edition, a $649, SIM and bootloader-unlocked version of its new flagship phone, for the U.S. Don't be too pleased. While the One looks like a great phone, this Developer Edition shows what's wrong with our phone market as a whole, and it shows why efforts to mandate unlockable phones won't help most U.S. consumers.

Here's the problem: the Developer Edition has HSPA/WCDMA 850/1900/2100 and LTE  700/850/AWS/1900. If you don't know what that means but you're still cheering for unlocked phones, you need to get educated fast, because this is the problem with unlocked phones in the U.S.

This phone will only work properly on AT&T.

On T-Mobile, it will get 3G in some cities, but not in others; it'll be stuck on 2G in many places. It might get LTE in the future, but we're not sure. Ditto for Simple Mobile, Ready SIM, Straight Talk, and any other carrier that uses T-Mobile's network.

It absolutely won't work on Sprint or Verizon, Virgin or Boost, MetroPCS, Page Plus, Clearwire, PlatinumTel or any other carrier that uses the Sprint or Verizon networks.

Since I'm ranting, let me remind you that no unlocked phone will work on Verizon or Sprint, because their CDMA networks verify devices at the network level and simply reject unlocked devices that haven't been pre-approved.

The CDMA problem might go away in a few years as Sprint and Verizon both move to LTE, which has a SIM card requirement. But it won't change the fact that carriers and manufacturers tend to spec out devices that don't include the frequency bands used by other carriers, often on purpose.

This all particularly hurts because the HTC One is an excellent, world-class smartphone, and we need more like it. Read our hands on with the new phone to see why.

Unlocked Doors That Lead Nowhere
You simply can't address the issue of phone unlocking in the U.S. without addressing the problem of manufacturers making phones physically incompatible with multiple carriers. Without radio compatibility, mandatory unlocking bills are feel-good nonsense at best and abetting gray-market exports at worst.

There are a few things you can do with an unlocked AT&T phone. You can move it to an MVNO on AT&T's network such as H2O or Black Wireless or you can export it abroad, where the phones generally work fine. But that's very limited freedom. This is not a solution that empowers American consumers to be able to pick and choose their carriers and devices.

Speaking of which, here's the other kicker: HTC says the phone will be available "when the HTC One is released in the United States." Notice there's still no date on that. In other words, the unlocked, carrier-free HTC One Developer Edition is still the slave of the carriers when it comes to its release date; HTC won't release the unlocked model before the carriers release theirs. When will the carrier-locked models come out? Nobody's telling.

I'm fervently in favor of being able to unlock your off-contract phone. If you own a device with no contract on it, you should be able to do what you want with it. But in our fragmented, multi-band, multi-technology market, if we want to really empower consumers to be able to pick and choose their phones and service plans, we need devices which can work on multiple carriers, and we need carriers willing to accept those devices. 

Who's going to make that happen?

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