It’s not advertised on billboards or television, it won’t be mentioned in a carrier store and it won’t be noticed by less tech-savvy friends. This month, HTC has quietly done what most phone manufacturers would deem unthinkable: break AT&T’s stranglehold on its nationwide LTE network by selling unlocked versions of their critically acclaimed HTC One smartphone.
While phone manufacturers often sell unbranded and unlocked versions of their phones, the HTC One is notable because of it’s ability to access AT&T’s LTE network
This means customers can buy the HTC One straight from the manufacturer and still get LTE service from T-Mobile or AT&T without dealing with branding hassles.. This is possible because these carriers rely exclusively on SIM cards to identify the user’s phone on the network; customers don’t have to buy an AT&T branded phone to use their service.
This has a direct effect for Android users in Huntsville, since AT&T’s LTE service will arrive this summer.
Students at Sam Houston State had mixed opinions about HTC’s new move. One student liked the idea, but had his doubts.
“I like the idea of an unlocked phone, but it can be a hassle because you paid for the phone in full and still paying for the [LTE] service,” senior student Shaun Thedford said. “You’re paying for the freedom you want.”
Graduate student Kourtney Malish was cautious about the news, and weighed the pros and cons.
“It’s hard to see the benefit to the customer,” Malish said. “It’s good because [you] fully paid for the phone and that you have the freedom to choose any carrier you want. But since you bought it straight from the manufacturer, if your phone breaks, you’re kind of screwed because they don’t offer insurance like carriers do. And what if carriers retaliate by adding hidden fees because you didn’t by the phone from them?”
Another student was skeptical about the entire business of smartphones itself.
“It’s more of just the fact that smartphones are built to fail,” sophomore student James Federbush said. “Contracts last for two years because usually that’s the lifespan of the smartphone before the next new thing comes out. Carriers are betting on your upgrades for profit.”
HTC is currently shipping both of the unlocked 32 and 64 Gigabyte versions of the HTC One at $574.99, which is $25 less than AT&T’s locked version.
However, since AT&T’s LTE airwaves launched in 2011, the only flagship phones and tablets capable of actually using the service have been AT&T branded devices.
This means that when customers buy a carrier-branded phone, they are subject to the hassles that come along with carrier-branded equipment. Such inconveniences ar pre-installed software, firmware updates that make users go through carrier testing and approval, and carrier-branded logos.
Usually if customers wanted to avoid the branding hassles, they would have to buy an imported grey-market phone from Europe or Asia that only supports HSPA (3G) or HSPA+ (4G), not LTE. According to Chris Ziegler from TheVerge.com:
“That’s no good, particularly on a congested network where you need as many technological advantages as you can get,” Ziegler said.
While this is a major step for the Android based market, HTC is not the first phone manufacturer to sidestep carriers’ branding process. Technically, Apple was the first to do so when they released their unlocked versions of the iPhone 5 last year.
As for whether or not HTC’s new move is a good idea for the future of the smartphone market, Thedford, Malish, and Federbush all had different perspectives.
Thedford found the idea enticing if it were at a lower cost.
“I’d say it’s a good idea if the phones were cheaper off the bat,” Thedford said.
Malish doesn’t think it will work out in the long run.
“I don’t think it is. I just don’t see how that would be profitable for manufacturers,” Malish said.
Federbush found the concept intriguing, but said it needed testing to see if it works for sure.
“It’s a good idea in theory. More [manufacturers] should try it out and see what happens,” Federbush said.