Most phones with LTE Band 13 also have CDMA. This is because most Band 13 usage is in the United States, for Verizon Wireless. Verizon gobbled up a massive chunk of the C-Block spectrum, during an auction years ago. They have used this to bootstrap their nationwide LTE network, without having to cannibalize other signals, like their 3G/CDMA network.
The FCC, lobbied by parties like Google, put an interesting poison pill in the C-Block auction terms. Anyone using LTE Band 13 had to agree to some terms. Namely that their devices would be “open access” – or specifically:
- Verizon agreed to not subsidy (carrier) lock any LTE devices that they sell.
- Verizon agreed not to throttle or prioritize any traffic on Band 13 (no throttling Netflix, for example).
- Verizon agreed not to change your plan, if you swap your SIM into a different device-type (say, temporarily putting your phone SIM card into a tablet).
- Verizon agreed to allow any unlocked device with LTE Band 13 on their network.
This last bullet point is the most important for this article. And Google’s lobbying efforts paid off. Devices like the Nexus 7, Nexus 9, Nexus 5X, and Nexus 6P, were made possible on Verizon Wireless because of this rule. Had this rule not been there, you wouldn’t be able to activate such a device on Verizon today.
Verizon has reacted to some of the rules, however. For example, newer plans change their rate based on the type of device you use. This complies with the FCC rule, while still raising your cost each day you use your phone SIM card in say, a hotspot. Older plans are grandfathered, and quite coveted as a result.
An active Unlimited Data Plan SIM card sells for several hundred dollars on eBay today. This is because there’s no way to get that plan today, at all… from any wireless carrier. AT&T, Sprint, and T-Mobile will throttle you after 23GB (depending on the carrier though, you may only be throttled on an “impacted tower” – though no carrier will actually define which towers are impacted or when).
Now, there are three devices that include LTE Band 13 which lack CDMA. Those are the HTC One A9, Sony Xperia Z3 D6603 and Sony Xperia D5803. HTC has committed to working with Verizon to certify their device, but Sony and Verizon haven’t. They seem to have had a falling out of late. First the Sony Xperia Z3v (which does have CDMA) is not getting upgraded to Marshmallow. In fact, it still hasn’t been upgraded to Lollipop – an upgrade many believe is now cancelled. Verizon hasn’t responded as to if it is or not, they say to contact Sony. Sony won’t comment either.
And then the Xperia Z4v was cancelled days before launch. I’ve been there, with another Sony (Ericsson) device, the T606/T608 back in 2003. Sprint executives credited me personally at the time with saving that device from the burn pile. Literally, burn pile. I managed to get 10,000 pre-build phones saved from destruction (the initial order that was en route to Sprint) as Sony’s Research Park Triangle CDMA R&D facility was being shut down.
Needless to say, many love Sony phones. The non-Verizon ones are the most open… even more so than Nexus. Not only do they have full AOSP build paths, but even full JTAG instructions. Officially. From Sony.
Besides, the Z3 Compact is the only sub-$250 phone that is smaller than 5-inches, and yet more powerful than an iPhone 5S. Clearly there aren’t enough small, powerful Android phones today.
So many would like to get the Sony Z3 and Z3 Compact active on Verizon, as an LTE Only phone.
Important: There are two variants of the Z3 and Z3 Compact. The D6633 and D5833 are the international variants. They lack LTE Band 13 and will not work. You must use the D6603 (Z3) or D5803 (Z3 Compact). Do not buy any other Z3/Z3c!
What to Expect – What Works, What Doesn’t
First, expect to make phone calls over Hangouts and/or Skype. You can get inbound calls from your Verizon number, but they will be forwarded over VoIP (easy-to-follow instructions later in this article).
VoLTE doesn’t work (yet). We suspect the VoLTE stack in the Z3/Z3c is just too out of date to work with Verizon. Marshmallow will fix that, but Sony hasn’t shipped it yet. It is possible Verizon is blocking the functionality, but we’ll cross that bridge after Marshmallow ships. Until VoLTE works, you should get used to Google Voice and Hangouts for phone calls. Or Skype.
You obviously won’t have CDMA. So you probably want to keep a nano-SIM CDMA/LTE phone in your glovebox or go bag. And a paperclip if your other phone needs it. Thankfully Sony was innovative and has an easy-to-remove SIM card that only requires a fingernail. It’s right behind a waterproof door.
LTE Band 4 and Band 2 does work. So you will have Verizon XLTE coverage.
Beyond that, everything just works. Tethering works, network coverage automatically hands off. It really walks and talks like a Verizon data-only tablet. Only it’s a phone, so making VoIP calls isn’t odd.
How to Do It – Start with the Phone Call
First, you’ll want to call Verizon. Depending on your plan, you will be charged $40/month for a “Non-VZW Device” – unless you take actions to get it recognized by Verizon as a phone.
After several FCC complaints, Verizon agreed to start treating non-VZW smartphones as, well, smartphones, when it comes to billing purposes, and not data cards. This is obviously less important if you have an older plan that doesn’t discriminate by device type.
Before beginning, I assume you have a nano-SIM with Verizon that is activated. You need to do this first. Having a CDMA/LTE phone with a nano-SIM is the easiest way. In some circumstances, you can ask a Verizon store to swap your SIM using one of their demo phones as a dummy device. But I don’t recommend it. In fact, I don’t recommend using a Z3 or Z3 Compact without a nano-SIM Verizon-branded device. You may need it as a backup (for 3G/CDMA coverage), and it just resolves a lot of issues. You can get an old one for as little as $99.
Start by calling Verizon at 800-922-0204 and hit Option 3 for Tech Support. Then say you have an “activation problem”. When you get a menu, chose “all other issues” to be sent over to tech support and a real person.
When there, explain your situation. You have an LTE Band 13 phone that you want to use on the network, but is a non-VZW device. You need to register the device with Verizon. If the tech support person is having difficulty understanding, ask them to look on InfoManager for the DMD Non-VZW Device Add Form.
This is a form that they will fill out. Expect this to take 25 to 30 minutes. It’s a long form that will ask tons of specifics about your device. Right down to the color and storage capacity. When they ask what frequencies it supports, tell them LTE bands 13, 4, and 2.
Next – Activate the Device
Verizon will not set up a new line of service on a non-VZW device (except for iPhone and Nexus – possibly the HTC One A9 too, but that is unconfirmed), so you need an already-active SIM card.
Put the SIM card in your D5803 or D6603. Power it up.
When it boots up, you should get No Service. This is normal. It is due to Sony not anticipating an LTE-only network scenario. Hopefully this will be fixed in Marshmallow. Until then, do the following:
- Dial *#*#4636#*#* in the Phone app then tap Phone Information on the next screen.
- Change the network setting to LTE Only (you MUST do this step – LTE/GSM is not enough, it must be LTE Only!!)
- Back out to the home screen. Open the Settings app. Go to More… under wireless (at the top), and select APNs. Create a new APN – the only setting you need is vzwinternet in the APN field, and name it whatever you want.
- Reboot the phone. You should now have LTE. The signal bars should now show up, and the carrier should read Verizon Wireless.
Cleaning Up – Setting up VoIP (Easily)
Normally, “Setting up VoIP” is a polite way of saying “pure torture” – not so on the Z3 or Z3 Compact. No SIP configuration or pain here.
Start by firing up Google Play. Make sure Hangouts is up to date. Install Hangouts Dialer. Update Google Play Services and all the Sony apps. Go into About Phone -> Software Updates. Make sure your firmware is up-to-date.
Then, set up Hangouts. It helps to have a Google Voice number already established. Go do that on a PC if you haven’t. Make a test call outbound via Hangouts Dialer.
Now, power the Z3/Z3c off, and take the SIM out of the phone. Put it back into that CDMA/LTE Verizon-branded phone. Now, dial *71 + Your Google Voice phone number. You should get a confirmation, or some beeps. Finally, go into Google Voice settings, and remove your Verizon number as a forwarded phone number (if you had added it there).
What the above few steps does is enable Conditional Call Forwarding. When your SIM card is in the Z3/Z3c, and someone calls your Verizon number, it will be automatically forwarded to your Google Voice number. That will then ring through via Hangouts VoIP to your Z3/Z3c. If someone calls your Verizon number while the SIM is in your CDMA/LTE phone, the call will be routed normally.
Conditional Call Forwarding on Verizon is free, but uses airtime. To disable it, call *73 from your CDMA/LTE Verizon-branded phone. Also, VoIP via Hangouts uses LTE data (unless on Wi-Fi), so be aware of those data charges.
And yes, this means that calls routed from your Verizon number to your Z3/Z3c will wind up double taxing you… airtime minutes for the call forwarding, and then data charges for VoIP over LTE usage. But that’s the cost of freedom on Verizon!
The only limitation to this process is that you cannot make outbound calls with your Verizon number. You also cannot call Verizon services like *611, though you can use the manual numbers (800-922-0204), so save those to your address book. Finally, 911 calls cannot be routed over Verizon coverage (unless/until VoLTE starts to work – hopefully with Marshmallow). You can call 911 with the regular phone app, and E911 will work. It just will be carried out over a GSM/UMTS signal. I do not know if the E911 system will identify your billing address, as if you called over a Verizon signal… but you will reach the 911 dispatch on any valid AT&T or T-Mobile signal.
Once you have enabled Conditional Call Forwarding, you are free to put your nano-SIM back into your Z3/Z3c. Calls from your Verizon number will auto-forward to your Google Voice number, and you will make and receive calls via the Hangouts Dialer app.
Congratulations, you’ve fought the man – and now have a Z3 (Compact) fully functional on Verizon Wireless – data, and calls too.
Note: You may have to go back into *#*#4636#*#* to enable LTE/GSM to call 911. I am not going to test that one.
Following these steps, we’ve established the Z3 D6603 or Z3 Compact D5803 can work on Verizon Wireless today, as unlocked, non-Verizon smartphones. While VoLTE would be nice, it is not necessary to keep getting calls from your Verizon number.
This article will be updated when Marshmallow is released for the Z3 and Z3 Compact with additional testing, and any step revisions.
Update: To-date, no Marshmallow build for the D5803 has offered VoLTE, including the alternate-track Marshmallow Concept releases that Sony has maintained with patch support. With Qualcomm apparently forcing the cancellation of Nougat for the Z3 family, it appears we won’t ever get a working VoLTE stack on these phones.