Smartphones are expensive! Most people do not have the money to continually purchase a new phone as soon as the newest version comes out.
Maybe you want to keep this wonderful device, but are not satisfied with your cellular carrier, or you are simply moving to another country.
Whatever the case may be, we all want the ability to take with us, the phone we spent all our hard earned money on, and use it with a different carrier. It’s not like an internet provider will make you buy a brand new computer, simply because you switched providers. So why do most phone companies lock their SIM to only be able to use their cellular service?
While almost all major US cellular carriers are getting rid of contracts, the phone is still often carrier locked, meaning you can only use that phone through their network.
There are ways around being bound to one company however. It’s referred to as “unlocking your phone” as I talked about in an earlier post.
Now that this process is both legal, and backed by the US Federal Communication Commission (FCC), it is a bit easier to proceed with this process. Although it’s not the easiest process when dealing with your wireless providers. They usually require the following:
- The account holder’s name and account number
- IMEI of your device
- Your phone number
- The account holder’s social security number or password
- A finished contract
- Overseas deployment papers, if the nature of your inquiry involves you being in the military and wanting to unlock your phone before your contract is up
I will go through the process to carrier unlock your smartphone, with each US carrier. If you have a different carrier in another country, the process is fairly similar.
Unlocking a Sprint Phone
Surprisingly, phones bought by Sprint are usually already carrier unlocked! This makes the process fairly easy, but does not guarantee the phone you buy through Sprint to work on every carrier. The ones that are not directly unlocked may need a bit of tweaking. Sprint uses a network configuration without a user-accessible SIM card for voice and 3G data (CDMA) but for the 4G LTE connection they use a standard SIM card.
Unfortunately for those iPhone users, there seems to be a HUGE caveat with Sprint: its iPhones cannot be unlocked. Sprint states that: “Sprint-branded iPhones have been manufactured in a way that prevents them from being unlocked to allow the device to activate on a different carrier’s network in the United States.” While other smartphones are seemingly easier to carrier-unlock, the built-in radios makes them difficult to use on other CDMA and LTE networks.
So if you are searching for an unlocked phone to purchase, it is best to buy one from another carrier that has a stronger support for each network when unlocked.
The prepaid phones for Sprint seem to be even worse when it comes to carrier-unlocking a device. Boost Mobile and Virgin Mobile have an inability to be unlocked. Don’t fret though! Because of those laws we talked about earlier from the Wireless Competition Act and Unlocking Consumer Choice, this conflicts with the new policies that were passed under these regulations.
The best way to unlock your Sprint phone for now is either through an online chat with a customer representative, or by calling 1-888-211-4727 (*2 from a Sprint device).
Unlocking a Verizon Phone
Like Sprint, Verizon Phones generally come carrier unlocked!
This may come as a shock to those who have Verizon Phones, as they use CDMA (a way to transfer several signals through one main access point or channel). According to Verizon, their 4G LTE smartphones come unlocked, and there is no code needed when switching to another carrier!
That’s pretty convenient, although I don’t think it guarantees that the phone will work with every carrier, like Sprint, and may need some tweaking to work for other carriers.
Due to the new laws in the US, Verizon is now placing a standard GSM (Global System for Mobiles) Sim card slot in each device. These phones are Verizon’s 4G LTE Phones, since LTE requires the use of a SIM card. Although these particular Verizon phones can be used on other carriers such as T-Mobile, or AT&T, or other GSM carriers such as Rogers in Canada, the phone still needs to have roaming GSM radios in order to make phone calls and send texts in the United States.
Most current devices from Verizon will work just fine on American GSM bands (the global standard communication signals for smartphones). However it will vary when it comes the LTE support.
Again, it is probably better to get a carrier unlocked GSM device from another carrier if you are thinking of buying an unlocked device.
To be on the safe side, it might be a good idea to call 1-800-711-8300 and request a SIM unlock, even though Verizon doesn’t have an online unlock request.
Unlocking an AT&T Phone
AT&T is probably the most difficult US carrier, when it comes to unlocking your phone.
Your phone will need to be from a current or former subscriber, with a verification of a phone number or account number from AT&T. In other words, you need to have a current or previous phone line with AT&T, and verify that it was your phone line through your current or previous AT&T account number or phone number.
A bit much to ask for, but they want to be sure you did not just buy one of their phones simply to unlock it and use it on another carriers network.
Hence the following requirements: The phone must not have been reported stolen or lost, and it needs to be paid off in full. Obviously we don’t want thieves unlocking our phones and reaping the benefits of using our old phones!
Finally, you are limited to a maximum of five unlocks per account, per year. They don’t want you to keep getting the newest and greatest phone, simply to go and sell the old one by unlocking it. How would a big company like AT&T profit from that?
The good news is, unlike Verizon, there is an online request form you can fill out on their website, so long as you have the IMEI number found on the back of the phone, or by pressing specific numbers on your dial pad.
The down side to this request, you will have to wait a few days for the unlock code to come through in your email. Technically, you can call customer support at 1-800-331-0500 to get the unlock code as long as you fulfill the above requirements, although AT&T doesn’t officially unlock your device over the phone.
Unlocking a T-Mobile Phone
Personally, I think T-Mobile is a little more straight forward with unlocking your phone, in comparison to the other three US Carriers mentioned.
There are a few standard things you must have to unlock your T-Mobile Phone. T-Mobile only requires these Three simple things to unlock your T-Mobile phone:
- It must be a device from T-Mobile
- It must not have been reported lost or stolen
- It must be attached to an account with “good standing”
In other words, it’s just like the other carriers, where the phone you are unlocking is from T-Mobile, cannot be reported lost or stolen, and needs to have no debt owed on the account.
Seems pretty fair.
They are a little more strict than AT&T however, allowing customers a maximum of two unlocks per year!
When unlocking a T-Mobile prepaid smartphone, you’ll need a bit of cash to fulfill the required refills before unlocking your phone. $100.00 USD. So long as you meet those easy requirements, you can unlock your phone with a live online chat representative, or by calling 1-800-746-0949 from a T-Mobile device. Alternatively, you can dial 611.
No matter which carrier your phone has, there is a way to carrier-unlock it. To break it down in a simpler way, contact your network carrier and tell them you need to network unlock your phone, so long as you have checked to see if you qualify under your networks unlocking policies mentioned above.
Once you receive a code from your carrier, simply place a SIM card from a different network in the phone, and your device will ask you to enter this code. Enter the code, and your network should change to match the SIM you placed in your phone. Sometimes a reboot is needed to complete the process (turning the phone off and on).
Occasionally, you may have to change a few settings involved in connecting your network to the internet. These settings are referred to as APN settings. Don’t worry though, big companies like the ones above usually have an APN in the system software that will automatically be used, and you can ignore this somewhat confusing information.
If you need to set a new APN, your new carrier you bought your new SIM card from can help you.
Although unlocking your phone is as easy as putting in an unlock code and using a new SIM card from another carrier, you can ran into problems. For instance, your carrier might not want to unlock your phone as it may not be “qualified” to receive an unlock code.
As mentioned previously, each qualification to unlock your phone varies from carrier to carrier. Generally your account needs to be in good standing, owned the phone for a varying period of time, and what your carrier considers a good reason for network unlocking your phone (traveling).
While your network has most of the say on whether you unlock your phone or not, there are other ways to get this unlock code without your carriers scrupulous qualifications. But it’s most likely going to cost you some money.
Companies buy in bulk, network unlock codes from carriers, and resell them to the public.
So how do we get these codes through these third party services?
Most of these companies have a website, where you give them your devices IMEI number, and phone model, purchasing your unlock code. From this point, you may have to wait a few hours, or several days. Some companies offer a way to receive the code within a few hours or less, as long as you pay their premium fee.
You can also look at forums online like the ones for Androids, to find other people who have already found the unlock code for your device, and skip the payment method, or just wait for your phone to qualify from your carrier, having your carrier provide it to you.
Depending on your device or how quickly you want the code, third party services will charge anything from a few dollars, to as much as $54 USD. Luckily these places will have customer service lines to help you if you do not receive your code in a timely manner, or if the code does not work.
Check these third parties out to get your unlock code today! You can switch carriers and keep your phone for as long as you want!
- Release My Code
- FreeUnlocks – Unlock codes are free only if you try or buy an offer from a TrialPay partner. Otherwise, you have to pay.
- UnlockPhone – Only works if you have an Android handset. Unlock codes are free, though making a donation will get you an instant unlock code.
- Cellphone Unlock