When you sign up for cell phone service, you opt for a phone that is geared towards the service provider’s network. Many manufacturers tailor phones to a particular carrier so that they cannot be used on other networks. For example, if you buy a cell phone from Verizon Wireless, you would not be able to buy the phone and sign up for service with AT&T or T-Mobile. You need to unlock a phone first to use it with another provider’s service.
Unlocked cell phones allow you to use a cell phone on any network as opposed to the one it was made for. These phones are SIM-based. SIM stands for subscriber identification module.
This little card holds all the activation details of your service with a cell phone company. You are able to swap this SIM card in and out of phones to easily begin using a new phone. Locked phones only recognize SIM cards from one carrier whereas unlocked phones recognize them from all carriers that use the technology. At the moment, only AT&T and T-Mobile utilize SIM cards; Verizon Wireless and Sprint do not.
Why are cell phones locked in the first place?
Most cell phone carriers in the United States lock cell phones to keep the price of phones down. When you buy a cell phone, especially a new one, you are often given a discounted price because you sign a contract. This contract effectively pays for the phone over time.
If you could buy a phone at discount that was unlocked and go to another provider to use it, the original company would lose the money it could have made off of you. Locking phones prevents this from happening and is lucrative for companies who thrive on loyalty to make a profit.
Why unlock a cell phone?
Many consumers believe that locking a cell phone in the first place defeats the purpose of a SIM card to begin with. Why lock a phone when the industry encourages consumers to easily swap between them? Unlocking a cell phone can give a user the freedom to pick the phone they want, the color they want and the features they want in a device when a service provider cannot.
Imagine the frustration of being eligible for an upgrade with your provider, telling them you want X, Y and Z, and all they can offer you is R, S, T and Z but for an extra fee. Being able to use an unlocked phone with all the features you want, the style you adore and the color you like are the reasons why you would want to unlock one.
How to unlock a cell phone:
Before you attempt to unlock your cell phone, you want to find out if it is truly locked or not. Some phones are not advertised as unlocked, so a consumer may be holding one without even knowing. Ask amongst your friends and find out who is using an unlocked phone. Swap SIM cards with your friend, and then call your friend’s phone number. If your own phone rings, then your phone has been unlocked the whole time. If not, then it is locked to your provider. From there, you can decide how you want to go about unlocking your cell phone.
There are three ways to unlock a phone: You can attempt to do it yourself, you can pay a third-party to do it or you can jailbreak the phone. Jailbreaking the phone is a last resort and usually only needs to be done to unlock smart phones, such as the iPhone. However, when jailbreaking a phone, you are mostly trying to unlock security features on it and not unlock it to use on other carriers.
If you are attempting to unlock a cell phone on your own, the first step is to talk to your provider. Many cell phone companies will unlock a phone for you at the end of a contract. Some will give you a security code or steps to walk you through it, some will ask you to bring it in to show you for free and some may charge a small fee, so you want to ask about this when you are eligible for an upgrade.
You can also pay third-party cell phone providers and resellers to unlock the phone for you. Depending on where you go, you could spend anywhere from $20 to over a hundred for this service. These types of cell phone providers also sell unlocked phones you can choose from if you would rather buy one outright instead of unlocking your own.
Conclusion – Is it worth it to unlock a cell phone?
Unlocking a cell phone in the United States is not illegal despite what providers might tell you. However, unlocking a cell phone can lead to disappointment if you cannot get it to work on another network or find features cut off because it was unlocked. Until you unlock a phone, you will not really know how it will interact or change which can lead to some risk when deciding to do it.
If you opt to unlock a phone currently under contract and your cell phone provider finds out, you may risk violating the terms and conditions of your agreement with them. This can lead to fines, a termination of service and having to go through the hassle of finding a new provider.
If you choose to unlock your cell phone, you do so at your own risk. While it can be rewarding to have the power to go from provider to provider, unlocking a cell phone can have its frustrations, too. Make sure to take the time to decide if unlocking one is right for you.