The CDMA handset flashing business is alive and well, according to at least one vendor. Flashtotalk, based in Portland with 45 employees, said it counts a handful of corporate relationships with regional wireless carriers, and is working on an LTE flashing product.
"CDMA flashing is going strong," explained Zhen Wu, president and COO of Flashtotalk. Wu said that the company's financials have been growing 30 percent year-over-year for the past few years thanks to sales of the company's flashing products to regional wireless carriers and independent wireless dealers. The company's proprietary flashing technology--which can be delivered remotely by Flashtotalk or by retail store employees--allows customers to "reflash" a CDMA phone from one carrier so that it will work on the network of another carrier (provided the same spectrum bands are supported). Flashtotalk also offers unlocking services for GSM-based phones.
Wu said that Flashtotalk supports most handsets including jailbroken Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) iPhone 5s and "now we are about to launch our LTE flashing solutions," he said.
Wu said Flashtotalk has direct corporate agreements with Cricket Wireless, Cleartalk Wireless, Blue Wireless, Cleartalk TN and Nationwide Telecom. "These contracts provide exclusive vendor servicer relationships with preferred pricing and support structure," he said, adding that Flashtotalk's agreement with Cricket hasn't been affected by AT&T Mobility's (NYSE: T) acquisition of Leap Wireless, the company behind the Cricket brand.
"Especially for rural or regional carriers, it really helps to address the handset restriction issues," Wu said, noting that smaller and regional wireless carriers have struggled to provide the same phone selection as larger, Tier 1 wireless carriers. "Consumers are making the choice to value plan carriers such as Cricket and other alike MVNOs but using their existing smart devices. Flashing and unlocking gives the consumer a choice and opportunity to save money."
Indeed, Wu said Flashtotalk could gain steam thanks to Sprint (NYSE: S) and SoftBank's renewed focus on smaller and regional carriers. Sprint recently announced a program aimed at encouraging smaller carriers to build out LTE networks that would allow subscribers to easily and cheaply roam onto Sprint's LTE network. "Flashing/unlocking is becoming a way of increasing gross adds without a lot of upfront cost," Wu explained.
CDMA handset flashing has long been a quiet trend in the industry. T-Mobile US (NYSE:TMUS) unit MetroPCS was one of the few wireless carriers that publically advertised its flashing services until it shuttered the offering in 2013; Virgin Mobile sued Metro over flashing in 2009. More recently, five of the nation's largest U.S. wireless carriers--Verizon Wireless (NYSE:VZ), AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile and U.S. Cellular (NYSE:USM)--agreed to simplify and standardize their policies on unlocking cell phones and tablets, after pressure on the topic from the White House and others.
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