The U.S. unlocked HTC U11 doesn’t support Verizon’s CDMA network, and that’s okay
Sometimes you just have to trust that the company selling you a phone has done its homework.
The U11 is arguably the best flagship phone HTC has ever made, and it properly competes with the other great phones released in the first half of 2017. But in coinciding with HTC's general decline in the U.S. market, its partnerships to put phones in carrier stores have dwindled, leaving us with a single carrier "partner" here: Sprint.
That means if you want to use the HTC U11 on any other carrier, you'll have to buy it unlocked — both Amazon and HTC will sell it to you directly without any carrier shackles for $649. That's great for discerning consumers, but it has also led to questions — primarily, does the phone support our favorite giant carrier, Verizon? Well, yes, it does — HTC says so on its website. Confusion has set in, though, as we all dig through the specs and realize it doesn't have a CDMA radio.
Not having CDMA isn't the end of the world, nor does it preclude HTC from legitimately stating that the U11 is compatible with the Verizon network — let me explain.
Verizon's upcoming CDMA sunset
Verizon doesn't want to use its CDMA network anymore. It has confirmed that it hopes to effectively shut down the old network by the end of 2019. Once it does so, the remaining spectrum and towers currently in use for CDMA (which have been dramatically scaled back in recent years already) can be repurposed for other uses as Verizon turns LTE into its baseline network and moves on to 5G deployment.
Verizon doesn't want people using its CDMA network anymore, and you probably already don't.
For most people using Verizon today, CDMA might as well not exist. Its LTE network covers 98% of the country. As of Q1 2016, 92% of its network traffic was traveling over LTE — and remember that includes some legacy devices that only use CDMA. So there's a dramatically small (and decreasing) number of places without LTE coverage, and surprisingly close to 100% of network traffic by LTE-capable devices is running on the modern network.
Even if your phone has a CDMA radio, chances are you don't actually use it anymore. When your phone has an LTE connection available, it will use it for both data and calls across Verizon's network — other times, you may be using Wi-Fi calling. In 2017, CDMA offers a suboptimal experience — only to be relied upon when there is no other option. Yes those places where CDMA is the only option do still exist, but Verizon clearly doesn't think they'll be around much longer.
Reason says that it won't be long, then, before Verizon itself stops selling smartphones that have CDMA radios in them. Including the old technology for a network that won't exist in the reasonable lifespan of the phone (roughly two years from sale) doesn't make sense from multiple perspectives. Having a CDMA radio requires extra licenses and technology (read: money spent) in smartphones, and just continues to sustain a user base of people who will have a device capable of using a network that will soon no longer be available.
HTC did the necessary work
HTC isn't hiding the fact that the U11 doesn't support Verizon's CDMA network. Every radio, band and network the U.S. unlocked U11 supports is listed right on HTC's website — including LTE band 2, 4, 5 and 13 for Verizon. But this is still confusing to some because HTC says it supports Verizon while also not having CDMA — and for some people, that doesn't mean "full" support.
Here's the thing: HTC lists the U11 as being compatible with Verizon because it truly means it. The U11 will work just fine on Verizon's network, without any unreasonable hang-ups. Considering nearly all of your data and voice traffic is already going over LTE on your current Verizon phone, you won't likely notice a difference on the U11.
More important than simply having a CDMA radio inside, HTC has gone through the process with Verizon to certify the U11 for use on its network — and that's why it's confident enough to list Verizon compatibility. It has done the same sort of testing for AT&T and T-Mobile as well; there are no guessing games here, the unlocked U11 does what HTC says it will do. That means your U.S. unlocked U11 will support VoLTE (aka HD Voice), Wi-Fi calling and Carrier Aggregation on the four major U.S. networks. HTC even goes on to list popular prepaid carriers like Cricket, MetroPCS, NET 10, Straight Talk and WalMart Family Mobile as fully compatible.
Not having CDMA is no longer a problem, folks.
Some people just won't buy a phone for use on Verizon that doesn't have a CDMA radio in it — there's no convincing them otherwise, even though the information on the impending death of CDMA is clear. But this is where we're headed, and at a rapid pace. There's a good chance the HTC U11 won't be the only phone released this year — and certainly not in the next 12 months — certified for use on Verizon without a CDMA radio. At some point, we're going to have to let this go as a requirement for buying a phone to use on Verizon.
For the average person who wants an HTC U11 and has Verizon as their carrier, they will buy the phone, pop in their SIM and use it fully without knowing the details — and they shouldn't have to. This is the future we've wanted for so long and continually complained about in relation to using phones on Verizon. Now that it's finally here, let's enjoy it.
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