Will an Unlocked Verizon Phone Work on U.S. Cellular?

By Micah McDunnigan

Unlocking your smart phone can be a risky proposition.
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One common phrase surrounding cellphone use these days is "unlocked phone." By unlocking a phone, users attempt to obtain full control over their phone and what service with which they use it. While the truth behind this statement depends on an individual user's technological sophistication, unlocking a Verizon phone does not guarantee it will work with U.S. Cellular or other carriers.


The term "unlock" in reference to cell phones involves gaining administrator privileges on a smart phone. Doing this allows a user to bypass the restrictions which Verizon put into the phone's software. These can be restrictions on what applications the user can install onto the phone, as well as restrictions on the user's ability to tweak the performance setting for the phone's physical hardware. While gaining these privileges can cause inexperienced users to break their phones or open them up to security vulnerabilities, experienced users can customize the phone to their exact preferences.

Verizon Function

An unlocked Verizon phone can function on Verizon's cellular network in the same way it did before the user unlocked the phone. This includes both access to Verizon's network for handling voice calls, as well as its data network for providing its mobile devices with Internet access. However, because of the nature of the technology Verizon used in its phones as of this writing, an unlocked Verizon phone could only work on Verizon's cellular network and not those of other service providers.


While an unlocked phone will work on Verizon's cellular networks, there is a potential obstacle that could prevent such functionality -- he phone deactivating itself. Most cellular providers, including Verizon, frown on users unlocking their phones. To discourage this, Verizon introduced a feature in which many of its phones will check its system settings on start-up. If these settings differ from certain preset standards, the phone will permanently disable its own hardware and prevent the phone from ever turning on again. A phone which permanently disabled itself, also known as "bricking," will not work on any cellular network.

CDMA Providers

Verizon phones use CDMA technology to create connections between its voice and data networks and the individual Verizon mobile phones. Most other cellular providers in the United States use GSM technology. Consequently, whether the phone is locked or unlocked, the only other cellular network a Verizon phone could work on is Sprint's cellular network. However, the user would have to convince a Sprint service representative to activate the phone on Sprint's networks. Sprint employees are under no obligation, legal or otherwise, to do so.