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How many times have you come across a ‘Locked’ phone? What does this mean? It means that your device shall only work with the carrier you bought it from until you unlock your phone.
While many phone manufacturers sell their phones unlocked, which makes them compatible with different networks such as US Mobile, T-Mobile, and Virgin Mobile. Many carriers “lock” the phones they sell to their network.
It is essential to understand the fundamental difference between a locked and an unlocked phone because that determines your phone usage, plans, pricing, and compatibility with other carriers out there.
Locked vs. Unlocked Phone: What’s the difference?
Let’s say you bought the latest iPhone from AT&T. You’re on a plan with them now. You have to move upstate for work. Therefore you got another carrier with better coverage, T-Mobile. Ideally, all you need to do is swap your sim card, right? But if it’s a locked phone, it isn’t that easy.
You first have to get in touch with AT&T, let them know your situation, and get your phone unlocked. Once done, you can go to any compatible carrier you want for better coverage or cheaper plans. Therefore if you’re a frequent traveler, within the country or even overseas, do remember to ask the magic question (Is my phone unlocked?). It would be best if you were sure that your device is entirely independent of any carrier restrictions.
What are Carrier Restrictions?
Carrier restrictions are limitations on your mobile phone to prevent you from using a competitor’s sim card, and how do they do that? The carrier locks a phone by adding a software code during the manufacturing phase. And the device can only be unlocked by the carrier or enter an unlock code provided by the same carrier. Nowadays, carrier restrictions vary from one carrier to another. So does the unlocking protocol. So here’s a simplified guide on how to free yourself from your carrier restrictions.
Surprisingly, despite using CDMA technology, most of Verizon’s phones come unlocked! Verizon claims that all their 4G LTE phones (which use a SIM card) are all unlocked, and there is no code or process to take it over to another carrier. We tried this out on an iPhone 6 and used a US Mobile SIM card without any issues.
However, if you do come across a Verizon locked device, you don’t have to worry. With Verizon’s latest device unlocking policy, a device shall not be locked for more than 60 days after activation. Now. You may face a locked device, even if it’s paid for, that might sound unfair, but Verizon claims that such protocols are in place to prevent identity theft and scammers from reselling newly activated devices.
With AT&T, you need to look out for the following requirements:
- You must be a current or former AT&T subscriber.
- The device in question must be from AT&T.
- It must not have been reported as lost or stolen.
- It must be attached to an account with “good standing” — i.e., one not associated with fraudulent activity.
- It must have been active or at least 60 days with “no past due or unpaid balance.”
- You’ve made fewer than five unlock requests in a single year.
If you meet all these requirements, then head over to the AT&T website and fill out the respective device unlock form. It doesn’t get unlocked right away. You’ll have to wait up to five business days for the instructions to arrive via email. However, if you still need further assistance, you can call their support line at 1-800-331-0500 for help.
Just like AT&T, T-Mobile has several requirements to let you unlock your device.
- The device must be from T-Mobile.
- It must not have been reported as lost or stolen.
- It must be attached to an account with “good standing.”
- It must have been active for at least 40 days on the requesting line.
- If the device is on a service contract, at least 18 consecutive monthly payments must have been made.
- You’ve made fewer than two unlock requests per line in a single year.
Once you clear all those requirements, you can use T-Mobile’s Mobile Device Unlock app to complete the unlocking process. Alternatively, if you prefer, you can unlock your phone through a live chat with a T-Mobile customer representative or by calling 1-800-746-0949 (or 611) from a T-Mobile device.
Like Verizon, Spring uses an older CDMA technology, which may limit where you can take your phone to after you unlock it. Despite the shared technology, Sprint’s phones are mostly incompatible with Verizon’s service (depending on the phone). Sprint claims that their newer SIM-based phones launched in February 2015 will automatically unlock themselves once they become eligible.
Now that T-Mobile and Sprint have merged, the cell phone unlocking policy is pretty much the same. Both carriers will automatically unlock devices remotely within two business days from the date a device becomes eligible for unlocking.
If you want to check to see if you can unlock your device, you can speak to a Customer Service representative through an online chat or via a call to (888) 211-4727 (*2 from a Sprint device).
Now that we have discussed the big guns, let’s talk about the smaller carriers, for instance:
Metro by T-Mobile
Metro by T-Mobile formerly known as Metro PCS, is one of the most popular prepaid carriers, but hey, what if you’re stuck with it. While it is by T-Mobile, the unlocking procedure is slightly different and requires the following:
- It must be from Metro.
- It must have had active service for a minimum of 180 consecutive days (about six months).
- If you have a warranty exchanged handset, then the 180 days is based on the activation date of the original phone.
After you’re certain about those, you can proceed with the device unlock application found in your Metro by T-Mobile folder on your phone. This may only be possible with Alcatel A30, LG Aristo, and Samsung J7 Prime, and the rest.
For devices not on the list, such as iPhones, you can contact the Metro customer service line at 888-863-8768 or visit a local corporate store to request an unlock code. Do keep in mind that you’ll be asked to provide the phone number of the locked device, the account owner’s name, and the account billing PIN.
Following Sprint’s merger with T-Mobile, Boost Mobile’s customers are now part of DISH Wireless. That brings in some new requirements compared to what you may have had before. For starters, you should know whether your device is even eligible for an unlock, as some pre-2015 devices may not be.
On the other hand, Boost Mobile will not automatically unlock your phone or notify you whether you’re eligible or not, so you need to keep a track of your progress. You can make a unlock request to the company’s customer care line at 888-402-7366, once you meet the below eligibility requirements:
- It must be a SIM unlock capable Boost Mobile device.
- It must not be reported lost, stolen, or flagged as unlockable.
- The device has been active for 12 months or more on the account.
- The device’s account is in good standing and active.
From 2016 onwards, most of UScellular 4G LTE phones are sold as unlocked but those before that may need an over-the-air update, so you have to be privy to that before contacting them for an unlock.
However, if you have a 3G or 1X device, then you’ll need an unlock code from UScellular’s customer service line on 611 (from a UScellular device) or 888-944-9400 on another device.
Like all other carriers, UScellular has certain requirements, which include:
- It must be a device from UScellular.
- The device in question must not have been lost, stolen, or obtained fraudulently.
- The device in question must have been fully paid for.
Is it legal to unlock your phone?
We’ve all been through that stage, where unlocking a device raised too many questions.
Things changed on August 2, 2014, when President Obama signed the Unlocking Consumer Choice and Wireless Competition Act.
This makes it perfectly legal for you to unlock your device and switch carriers. However, you may have to wait for a certain amount of time, which varies according to your chosen carrier. More information can be found on FCC’s website.
How can we help you?
Now that we have covered all major network carriers and their device unlocking procedures. Do you want to wait that long for your device to be unlocked? What if you do not qualify for one of the requirements mentioned more above, and your stuck with one carrier for the rest of your life.
We at US Mobile believe in complete freedom, and for that reason, we only sell unlocked phones in our shop. Additionally, we will not even lock you into a contract because we believe that our customers choose to stay with US Mobile because of our exceptional customer service and cheap cell phone plans.