Ever since Verizon got into selling 4G LTE smartphones, every handset that the carrier has sold has been unlocked. They're branded with Verizon and optimized for its LTE bands, but customers have always been able to swap out the SIM card for another carrier. The reason for this was that it was part of the deal to acquire Verizon's part of the 700MHz (Band 13) spectrum.
But according to CNET, that's all about to change. Beginning soon, new devices will be locked until they're activated on Verizon's network, and in the spring, they'll be locked for a period of time after purchase. The idea is to help prevent theft and fraud.
The new policy will be in line with the rest of the industry. All carriers require that the phone be paid off before unlocking, and they have various activation requirements. AT&T is 60 days, T-Mobile is 40 days, and Sprint is 50 days, although Sprint will actually automatically unlock the phone after that time. According to the report though, Verizon will still unlock the phone after the activation period, even if the device isn't paid off yet.
Regular consumers aren't likely to be affected by this. After all, very few users buy a phone from Verizon just to use it on another network (sorry guys, but the days of the Nokia Lumia Icon are long gone). The real mainstream benefit to having an unlocked phone is that it can be used when traveling internationally, and that would likely be after the brief activation period anyway.