There’s great benefit in having an unlocked phone.
Users experience no extra hassle when switching carriers, and picking up a temporary plan while traveling internationally is simple.
It makes comparison shopping easy for the consumer — that’s why Canada’s telecom regulator is banning locking fees starting December 1st.
While that’s great news, there’s still one aspect of unlocked devices that hasn’t really been addressed.
Unlocked phones and VoLTE
Unlocked phones that are brought to new carriers often lack carrier-specific features like voice-over-LTE, video-over-LTE and Wi-Fi calling, due to the absence of carrier firmware.
But what if simply popping in your SIM to an unlocked device would deliver the necessary settings for services like VoLTE?
That’s the dream mobile network operator trade body GSMA is working on, along with a roster of big names including BlackBerry, Huawei, LG, Qualcomm, MediaTek, Samsung, Sony, Apple, HTC and ZTE.
It’s known as ‘late customization,’ and with it, users can get carrier-specific services without needing specific carrier firmware or a full system update.
The idea rests on the creation of a database, run by GSMA, where carriers and mobile virtual network operators (MVNOs) will upload their network settings. Phone manufacturers then download the settings and deliver the correct one to a user’s phone after they insert a SIM.
GSMA’s collaborators and other solutions
The GSMA recently published an update detailing just how many collaborators it’s now working with to populate its device settings database. In addition to the companies listed above, the GSMA also named over 50 carriers — though unfortunately none are Canadian. Ultimately, however, the GSMA hopes its open standard will become globally recognized.
If this whole process sounds familiar, it’s because Apple already does something similar with its iPhones. Since the company has signed on to work on the GSMA’s project, however, it seems it may use this collective database in the future, at least as a supplement.
Additionally, some unlocked Android device users may find that VoLTE works without issue, but there’s no guarantee it will.
In the case that an unlocked Android works with specific carrier settings, it’s likely a result of the manufacturer building in support, and perhaps the carrier white-listing that specific device for VoLTE use.
Google attempted to provide a solution to this issue in Android Marshmallow with a carrier configuration API, but it hasn’t been broadly successful.
It’s as yet unclear whether it will be possible to upgrade existing phones to use the GSMA’s solution — but here’s hoping.