Verizon and Sprint exercise more control over the phones that can use their network, and it takes a little more that just building one to make it happen.
In the midst of all the discussion over the merits and flaws of the Google Play edition Samsung Galaxy S4 and HTC One, there's a third discussion taking place, that more than a few people are interested in -- will we ever see a Google Play edition phone on Verizon or Sprint?
Now, we can't answer that any more than anyone else who doesn't make high-level purchasing decisions at either carrier, but we can talk about the issue a little bit. Hopefully this can address some of the questions surrounding the issue and clear up a little confusion.
The Google Play edition phones that are currently being sold will only work on AT&T or T-Mobile (or any of the smaller regional or MVNO carriers who use a GSM network) here in the U.S. The HTC One will only work at 2G speeds on T-Mobile, unless you're in an area that has already had the 3G network switched over to the 1900Mhz bands. Have a look here to see an unofficial map where that's been done. The phones are SIM unlocked, so will also work on any GSM network outside the U.S. Unfortunately, that doesn't mean you can stick the SIM card you use for Verizon LTE in one and get it to work, as neither phone supports the required network frequencies. The same goes for Sprint, as well as regional carriers like Cricket, Page Plus or U.S. Cellular. The easy way to check -- will the (non-Verizon) Galaxy Nexus or Nexus 4 work on the carrier? If so, the Google Play edition phones will work, too.
There is no technical reason that prevents Samsung or HTC (or any other manufacturer who wants to make one in the future) from making a Google Play edition phone that works on Verizon or Sprint. The same technology used to build the current carrier model HTC One and Samsung Galaxy S4 could be used -- it's just a change in software. Samsung and HTC can't just make them, because Verizon and Sprint do things a little differently when it comes to "activating" phones on their network.
With a GSM phone, you simply pop the SIM card into the slot and adjust what's called an APN (Access Point Name) to tell the phone how to connect to the network. As long as your phone is SIM unlocked and supports the correct frequencies, you can get them to work pretty easily. With Verizon and Sprint (as well as other smaller CDMA networks) the phones have to be activated by the carrier before they can be used. Often this is automatic and done from the web. However, the phones must be pre-approved by the carrier and in a database that has the unique ID number of all the phones that will be allowed on the network. Only Verizon can decide which phones are in their database. the same goes for Sprint. If Samsung were to make a Verizon version of the Google Play edition Galaxy S4, it still wouldn't work until Verizon wants it to work. The same goes for Sprint.
Will we ever see Google Play edition phones on Verizon or Sprint? It's certainly possible. Current rumors suggest we're going to see the Moto X on every carrier in the U.S., and if interest in the phone shows that people really want a Google-type experience more than they want the original OEM experience, the carriers may take a second look. Google doesn't hate Verizon or Sprint, no matter what you may read elsewhere. Both are very valuable partners, and Google would be happy to help get their Play edition phones on both networks.
We don't want to crush any dreams or fan any fires here. We just want you to be informed, and know the limitations of the current Google Play edition phones and a little bit of why it works the way it does.