Mobile Phone Carrier Locking 2.0

My first couple of mobile phones were ones that I bought directly from Island Tel Mobility, the only local wireless carrier at the time on Prince Edward Island. I had to buy a phone from them because their CDMA network didn’t support phones with SIM cards; only their phones worked on their network.

When Rogers moved into the PEI market, with its GSM network, an entirely new world of phone choice opened up because Rogers allowed you to purchase a SIM card from them and stick it in whatever device you wanted and, as long as the device supported Rogers’ GSM frequencies, you were good to go.

Since that time, I’ve only ever used unlocked phones I’ve purchased outright from places other than carriers, and I’ve never had any problems both using these locally (first with Rogers, then with Virgin and, most recently, with Eastlink) and while traveling (by obtaining a local SIM in whatever country I’m in for temporary use; like this time in Berlin, for example).

I’ve always believed strongly that I should have the freedom to bring whatever hardware I want to a wireless carrier, and I’ve always avoided the “free” locked phones, with their long-term contracts, that carriers have long used as a way of locking in customers.

A year ago, here in Canada, the CRTC, which regulates the wireless industry, supported this philosophy by requiring phones to only be sold unlocked, and by banning unlocking fees.

This week I’ve learned that my current carrier, Eastlink Wireless, has taken a step backwards, and will now only support phones that it sells itself (a limited list that includes iPhones, and several Samsung and LG models of Android phone). They no longer support general-purpose “bring you own phone,” something I’ve had confirmed by email, chat and a telephone conversation (I simply couldn’t believe it was true).

It remains unclear to me whether I’m required to use one of the phones from this list, or whether they simply won’t support other phones; here’s what a salesperson emailed me when I asked:

We have launched our new Voice over LTE network across PEI and the phones that can connect to our new network must be compatible. We have a full suite of Volte phones available but do not bring over non Volte devices at this time. They will not connect to our 4g LTE Volte network and therefore will not give you optimum coverage.

The conceit here appears to be that, to optimize its spectrum, Eastlink is emphasizing its Voice Over LTE service (Volte), and has decided only to support Volte-capable phones, and, additionally, they’ve only decided to support the subset of Volte-capable phones that they sell themselves.

I can bring one of these phones to Eastlink, unlocked, and they’ll support it, so it’s not a complete prohibition against “bring your own phone,” but it remains a significant departure from past-practice, and a blow to customer hardware freedom.

I’m looking for someplace else to take my business.


Oliver's picture
Oliver on June 18, 2018 - 19:52 Permalink

Not that I know much at all about this kind of thing, but the only rationale I can think of is, they've brought in a new system by the seat of their pants, and they can barely imagine coping with all the patches and customer support they'll have to provide, let alone the PR nightmare, if they couldn't patch everybody's phone automatically in the night. Does that sound about right?

Clark's picture
Clark on June 27, 2018 - 06:23 Permalink

I walked into Eastlink yesterday with the intent of getting phone lines for the whole family. We are all BYOD. I walked out without purchasing anything due to this new policy. We have a couple iPhone SE, and what I was told was that they would not be able to work on their new network. This despite the fact that Volte networks do support these devices. His advice was to purchase one of the devices they have in store.

Peter Rukavina's picture
Peter Rukavina on June 27, 2018 - 08:06 Permalink

I’m considering a switch to Telus’s self-service brand Public Mobile. This operates BYOD-only, and comes closest to matching Eastlink’s pricing.

You can buy a SIM online, or (apparently) from Walmart.

clark's picture
clark on June 27, 2018 - 10:32 Permalink

Public Mobile's plan selection process is a breath of fresh air compared to the complicated soup of the others I have tried to understand.

Peter Rukavina's picture
Peter Rukavina on June 27, 2018 - 10:33 Permalink

Agreed. I cannot attest to their service (yet), as the SIM cards I ordered have just arrived.