18

Q&A: Can the Verizon CDMA iPhone Be “Unlocked” to Work on Sprint?

If you get hold of a used Verizon iPhone, you may be interested if it can be “unlocked” to work on another CDMA network like Sprint. The short answer is that it’s possible, but a hack will be much harder and have different legal ramifications from traditional GSM-iPhone unlocking, (which is now legal). The reason is, due to the sim-cardless nature of CDMA networks, it’s up to the carrier to give an individual phone permission to connect to its network. With CDMA networks, you are identified by your device. With GSM, you are identified by your sim card.

For an iPhone to connect to Sprint’s network, Sprint would have to give that specific iPhone permission. Historically, Sprint has not allowed “foreign” smartphones to connect. Their probable motivation is they want you locked you in to a two-year contract by forcing you to purchase a new (subsidized) iPhone.

You could attempt to hack an iPhone so that it appears to be a device that it isn’t—a device with permission to connect to the network. But that is likely cellular fraud, as defined by the FCC.

Mobile Equipment Identifier (MEID)

When it comes to locking down CDMA phones, networks previously used something called an ESN (Electronic Serial Number) to identify specific phones. Because those numbers ran out, they now use a Mobile Equipment Identifier (MEID), which the Verizon iPhone uses. CDMA networks check a device’s ESN/MEID before allowing it to connect.

In the past, Sprint has not given permission for “foreign” ESN numbers to connect their network. Better possibilities are that the smaller regional CDMA networks like MetroPCS, Boost, or Cricket will look the other way and let the Verizon iPhone connect to their networks, but there could be legal ramifications from Apple/Verizon for doing this, especially if an exclusivity agreement is in place (Apple’s Tim Cook says there isn’t).

Can the MEID (or ESN) be Hacked or Changed?

In the past, people have hacked (switched) the ESN on cell phones, but it’s also likely illegal, possibly fraud. Because people have figured out how to switch an ESN, it’s no great leap in logic to think a MEID-switch hack is possible, or that an MEID can be changed to ESN, etc. But the legality question makes it unlikely that the common citizen would want to risk it.

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterest
  1. bob says:

    Hidden due to low comment rating. Click here to see.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 3

  2. Michael says:

    Yes MEID changes are possible. Yes people already do this. However it depends on the device whether or not it can be changed, can you change it in older phones easier, yes, but many new phones make it extremely difficult or impossible. For example, HTC Incredible was released in Q2 of 2010, its possible to change it… the DROIDX released in Q3 of 2010 is harder to change, as a matter a fact the only “publicly” known way to do it isn’t very easy or fun to do, you can change it without rooting the device but once the device restarts the MEID resets since you can only change it in the Virtual Memory, so what happens if you’re grocery shopping and you have to restart your phone for some reason or another? That can be fixed by rooting the device, installing a custom app to run scripts at every reboot to change the MEID to the desired MEID (presumably one from an old/broken phone no longer being used, unless you’re running the same MEID on two phones at the same time, which is yet another Federal Crime since you’re technically stealing. Thats one of the main reasons its illegal to do.) So, yea people could probably do it for the CDMA iPhone, but in the grand scheme of things its not very likely it will happen on a large scale if at all. The need to do this will likely diminish in the coming years since LTE is the new standard for both Verizon and AT&T 4G networks and it requires a SIM card… ie. after a while we hopefully won’t have to see MEID, though Verizon’s 4G phones will undoubtedly have to have them for several more years to be backwards compatible.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  3. Maurice says:

    What drives me nuts is how Apple originally asked Verizon to carry the phone and Verizon laughed in their faces; Only to crawl back to them, and essentially alienate a market that had never been hostile;(SPRINT)

    I just feel it is silly business to limit the carriers, and it essentially creates a black market. Why can’t people be free to buy whatever hardware they want and use it on whatever network they want?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 10 Thumb down 1

  4. Dominik says:

    Apple went to Sprint after they were told no by Verizon and Sprint passed…

    Not to mention if someone really wants this device, they can take it over to Boost Mobile.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  5. Michael says:

    Maurice: they didn’t crawl back. Apple wanted full control over everything related to the iphone. They said no, only reason at&t said yes is they desperately needed them and were willing to do anything. Verizon still doesn’t need the iphone, they have it because they got better terms than they were originally offered because APPLE needed them since the iphone is losing market share to android.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 1

  6. jay says:

    Hidden due to low comment rating. Click here to see.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 4

  7. ryan says:

    Hidden due to low comment rating. Click here to see.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 3

  8. A.priori says:

    Ryan, dont spread false rumors. If you google around you will see this same old “sprint is getting the iphone” since 2010. Sprint has made some bad business decisions. I wish to god they would get the new iphone 5.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  9. Drpepper says:

    I though we lived in US of A, a country where democracy and free market prevails, then why is it that a phone can only be used as dictated by its maker when you pay for it. Once i pay for an iphone, its mine, i should be able to use it “freely” as i wish, i m not hacking into apple’s phone to know its secrets, nor am i hacking into sprint to use its network, i am paying for both of them.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  10. tony says:

    sprint is absolute garbage when it comes to their phones and customer service. my sister has the evo 4g and she hates it. i have had sprint for 6 years and never once have i liked it. sprint plans are now equivalent with verizon plans, and verizon gives many discounts for stuff. sprint with 3 phones is $190ish, verizon with 3 phones is about $180 then a 20% discount as well. o and sprint fucked me over by extending my contract an extra 6 months so i cant cancel until december instead of july without paying a fee

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 3

  11. .... says:

    Ok..This is addressed to “tony”. I’m actually a sprint employee and the 20% off is just based off of the rep adding it onto the bill when you do it instore, Anyone with sprint can come in and ask and based on there buisness/insurance/ or who they bank with can get them 25% off there bill. Chances are your just an asshole and the sales rep didnt want to add on the discount. And 3 phones on 1 sprint line is about uh…149$…so…

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  12. KT says:

    Tony…. You are so wrong. I have 2 phones on Sprint with unlimited Data, 1400 Shared minutes, Free Mobile to Mobile (and that’s calling ANY network) and free evenings and weekends and only pay $132/mo. I looked into getting us 2 iphones on Verizon with about the same plan except NO free mobile to mobile and they wanted $191/mo. They even have a deal with my company that we as employees get a 20% discount on plans, but when I inquired about getting the iphones I was told “Sorry, but we aren’t currently offering any discounts on the iPhone or Plans for the iPhone” Nice!

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  13. Jon says:

    See that’s the thing. I would love an iPhone on Sprint. I don’t care about how “bad” their customer service is (which I never really had problems with anyway) cause I use Best Buy Black Tie plan for issues with my phone. The reason why I love Sprint is cause of their UNBEATABLE plans (out of the three major companies). You basically have “UNLIMITED” minutes with their Anytime, Any mobile (450 minutes for landlines). UNLIMITED web/data/text for $69.99. Honestly, Sprint has the best plans hands down!

    But what will happen if/when the iPhone comes to Sprint? The iPhone is a super heavy data phone. Sprint is already losing money. So will the plans stay the same for the iPhone (which I would hope so) and hope that people would be insane to pass up the opportunity of an iPhone + $69.99 per month plan? Will they raise their plans (which wouldn’t be logical because they need the incentive of people saving money while using the SAME phone)? Will they change their family plans as well with 2+ iPhones in one household?

    No one knows. I myself, can’t wait for the day to come. I have the HTC Hero and I would jump off a bridge to get away from this phone (the phone itself, not the OS, Android is amazing, just not as “natural” as iOS).

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  14. Bill says:

    I had an iphone 3GS for 2 years and loved the phone but hated AT&T. We switched to Sprint about 4 months ago through a Sam’s club plan and got an EVO. It sucks bigtime! The battery life couldn’t be worse and android’s continually have problems synching up with Exchange servers to the extent that I had to purchase a 3rd party app.

    I would love nothing more than have a iphone on Sprint.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  15. Todd says:

    The reason carriers “Lock” phones in the U.S. is simple, you did not buy your phone. You paid a small amount vs the retail value, the carrier “subsidized” the price and had you sign a legal agreement to remain with them for 1 or 2 years. This allows them enough time to make a large enough profit to offset their loss when you first signed up. Ask to buy one without a contract, instead of $200 it is more likely to $600 – $800. The USA is a semi-free country and that means the carrier has the right to deny a phone being on their network for any reason they choose, especially if you did not buy from them. They can also request the manufacturer to add software to the phone that only works with their network, thus when you take it to another carrier and it does not work properly and their customer service cant help you (this takes up a lot of time which cost money). Often the entire software suite must be re-written in the phone, these are proprietary and the carriers like Sprint/Verizon/Etc will not release their files to the general public to easily change the phones. Its all about profit, if they make it easy you will do it and they will not be able to force you to buy from them. Thus you have Capitalism!!! As a democracy we can request our representatives to change it but it is not likely to happen as everyone would have to get together on it to make it happen.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 1

  16. steve says:

    tony :
    sprint is absolute garbage when it comes to their phones and customer service. my sister has the evo 4g and she hates it. i have had sprint for 6 years and never once have i liked it. sprint plans are now equivalent with verizon plans, and verizon gives many discounts for stuff. sprint with 3 phones is $190ish, verizon with 3 phones is about $180 then a 20% discount as well. o and sprint fucked me over by extending my contract an extra 6 months so i cant cancel until december instead of july without paying a fee

    Maybe some people are not ready for latest technology. They just need simple phone for calling only. More features add complexity to a simple phone. It’s sometimes the users, not the devices or the carrier.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 1

  17. tony says:

    really, im an asshole??? right because i walked into the sprint store and just like the 4 times in the past 4 months with my palm pre i told them it kept breaking and theyd give me a refurbished one a week later (like those work the same), then they say i have to claim this one on my insurance because of new management and they are trying to save money??? maybe if you helped your customers sprint wouldnt need to save money. and my buddy with the verizon palm pre walks into the verizon store and he walks out with a new phone in 15 minutes and much much nicer people there…go to the sprint forums and look how many people complain about sprint. maybe ur shitty attitude about customers is the reason why customers are such assholes. i have always been polite to them when i walk in, but lately the employees heads are getting further up their asses. please learn your products before you talk to me about them

    …. :

    Ok..This is addressed to “tony”. I’m actually a sprint employee and the 20% off is just based off of the rep adding it onto the bill when you do it instore, Anyone with sprint can come in and ask and based on there buisness/insurance/ or who they bank with can get them 25% off there bill. Chances are your just an asshole and the sales rep didnt want to add on the discount. And 3 phones on 1 sprint line is about uh…149$…so…

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  18. Joseph N says:

    Hahahahaha, they’re will never be a day where sprint will be even near better too Verizon. Notice how I captalize Verizon and not sprint. Cuz Verizon deserves it. And also, they’re will never be a day in history where sprint will have more bars than Verizon. And evo being better than iPhone? Im calling bs on that one.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0