What Does Unlocked Smartphone Mean – The US wireless market is more competitive than before, which is good news for consumers who have many choices when it comes to choosing a service provider. However, one barrier still exists when trying to switch operators: a locked smartphone.
The end of wireless contracts marks the watershed trend for consumers because it finally opens the door for them to more easily shop for alternative wireless operators. But locking software that operators use cellphones restricts their use on other networks still prevents many consumers from having total freedom when it comes to choosing providers.
What Does Unlocked Smartphone Mean
Now Verizon, the only wireless operator that sells cellphones that are unlocked outside the box, reverses direction. The company said earlier this week it would start locking cellphones it sold to consumers for an indefinite period of time, which would prevent them from using SIM cards from other operators. But Verizon promised to finally unlock the device after activation. The company has not said how long the period was.
Verizon says it does this to prevent criminals from stealing phones, which are often stolen on the way to retail stores or from the shop itself. Unlocked cellphones make an attractive target because they can be resold on the black market or used abroad with different operators. That is especially true for the iPhone, which is the main target for thieves because of its high selling value.
Because I get so many questions about the difference between a locked cellphone versus an unlocked cellphone and what it means for the average wireless customer, I have compiled this FAQ for my readers Ask Maggie to summarize the basics.
What is the difference between a locked and unlocked cellphone?
The difference is that a locked phone has a software code that prevents you from using it on another network. An unlocked phone does not have a software key in it or someone can get the code that opens the software. After the device is unlocked, you can remove the SIM card and enter a different SIM and get service.
What are the benefits of having an unlocked cellphone?
The biggest benefit of having an unlocked cell phone is if you want to change your wireless carrier, you can easily do it. All you have to do is enter a new SIM and register for the service. No need to buy a new phone. This is good because it allows you to shop for the cheapest service rather than being stuck with a particular operator because you don’t want to buy a new phone.
This flexibility can also be useful for people traveling abroad. It is usually cheaper to use local wireless services when traveling abroad. And again, you just have to remove the SIM card in your phone and replace it with one from the local operator. And voila! You will have a new local number and it will be cheaper to make calls in the country and access the internet than if you use US operator services that will require roaming on foreign networks.
Is GSM vs CDMA still important?
Yes, voice networks from US wireless operators still use two GSM and CDMA technologies that are basically different. Sprint and Verizon use CDMA, while AT & T and T-Mobile along with most of the world use GSM.
The good news is that cellphones are slightly more compatible and portable among operators than a few years ago. But cellphone makers, like Apple, still tend to make several versions of their cellphones so you need to know which model you buy before you can find out if you can take it to another operator.
For example, Apple sells two versions of the iPhone 7, 7 Plus, 8, 8 Plus and X. The unlocked version of this phone is not sold through compatible operators on all four US operators. IPhones sold through Verizon or Sprint can also be used on CDMA and GSM networks, which means they are compatible with AT & T and T-Mobile. But the iPhone sold through AT & T and T-Mobile does not include a modem for CDMA, so they cannot be used for voice services on Verizon or Sprint.
The point is that you have to check before you buy if you think there is a possibility that you will switch operators.
How do I unlock my cellphone?
Depending on how you buy your phone, the key may have been unlocked. For example, if you don’t buy a cellphone through a US operator or you buy it directly from Apple or on Amazon and any company indicates it isn’t locked, you don’t need to do anything.
Before the change, Verizon’s phone came open outside the box.
Phones purchased through AT & T, Sprint, T-Mobile, and Verizon (starting later this year) will have a key for them. And you have to find out what criteria must be met before you can ask for the code to unlock it.
So what are the criteria for unlocking?
It really depends on which operator you are using.
AT & T requires you to pay for your cellphone and be active at your service for at least 60 days. Even then, the company still requires you to wait 14 days to submit your request. Sprint also requires that your cellphone be paid in full. And it requires a waiting time of 50 days, even though the phone is automatically unlocked. T-Mobile also requires mobile phones to be paid in full, and has a waiting time of 40 days. But it will offer customers traveling abroad to open temporary codes.
Verizon will not say how long the locked period will be once a policy change is made in the spring. The company said it would provide updates before the policy took effect. It also refused to provide a certain time for launch. The waiting period is in place to prevent scammers from registering for services using stolen identities to get new phones and immediately turn around and sell the device.
Even after the change, Verizon will continue to unlock the phone regardless of whether it paid. The company will also continue to receive calls that are not locked from other operators.