What Are Unlocked Cell Phones?

Are you curious about unlocked cell phones? This article will hopefully shed some light on this gray market if you plan on buying one. First of all, why do unlocked cell phones exist?

Carriers will usually offer you a great deal on mobile devices when you sign a 1 year or more service contract with them. They will lower the price of the handset by hundreds of dollars, and they even go as far as giving you the handset for free.

PadlockThey are actually losing a lot of money when they make you such an offer, and they want to make sure you’re a profitable client. In order to prevent you from breaking your contract with them, they force you to remain with them by locking the new device you just bought.

This means you are not be able to use your handset with another carrier. Even when your contract has expired, your handset will remain locked and often you won’t have much choice but to buy a new one if you want to switch to another carrier.

When talking about unlocked cell phones, we are mostly talking about GSM phones, which use SIM cards to store all your contacts and client information. CDMA phones can be unlocked too, but this article will focus on the GSM variant.

What are unlocked cell phones?

Unlocked cell phones basically allow you to move from carrier to carrier without having to change your handset. With a GSM phone, you could theorically have two SIM cards from two different carriers and switch carriers simply by changing SIM cards. This, however, will only work with unlocked cell phones.

Why you would want to unlock you cell phone?

1. Changing carriers on the go. Say you travel abroad often – you could want to sign up with two carriers in order to reduce costs, saving yourself any roaming charges, without having to carry two handsets. You could simply switch the SIM cards in your unlocked cell phones when you’re in another country.

Unlocked cell phones2. Selling your cell phone. Say you plan on changing your phone and want to sell your old one. You are limiting your choice of buyers immensely if they can’t choose the carrier they want. Cell phones, when bought elsewhere than from a cell phone carrier, are often sold unlocked.

3. The practice of locking phones is bad for the consumer. By doing so, the carriers force your to remain loyal to them and can charge you more for less. They are effectively trying to avoid competition with the other carriers.

A good compromise the carriers could put into place would be to keep the phone locked for the duration of the contract and offer to unlock it when the contract ends. This would however prevent the user who has to travel abroad from switching SIM cards for the duration of the contract, so this is not an ideal solution. Having unlocked cell phones allows you to choose what’s best for you.

4. Exclusive handsets. Often, some handsets are exclusive to a specific carrier, like the iPhone. At the moment, you can only use an iPhone with AT&T. By unlocking a cell phone, you can use it with any carrier.

There has been some controversy recently on unlocked iPhones, as most unlocked iPhones have been rendered useless by the latest software update, but the idea remains the same.

Dangers of unlocking a cell phone

1. Carrier specific features might not work. Some carriers have specific services built into the handset, such as music downloading and web browsing. These features might not work if you try using them with unlocked cell phones you did not buy from these carriers.

2. Unlocked cell phones could become non functional. The iPhone is a good example of this. In the past, Apple has released a software update which has made all unlocked iPhones unusable. This however happens only in rare circumstances.

3. Possible compatibility issues with foreign phones. There could potentially be some compatibility issues if you buy a phone from a foreign country, say somewhere in Asia, unlock it, and try to use it in your home country. Some features might not work properly because of differences in the cellular networks.

4. Some extra configuration might be required. In order to use some of the features like multimedia messaging and web browsing, you might have to configure your cell phone when switching to a new carrier.

How to unlock a cell phone

So, you’re considering unlocking your handset? There are many resources around the net which can help you achieve this. You can either:

Buy unlocked cell phones directly. By buying a handset that is already unlocked, you’re saving yourself the hassle of reprogramming your phone. This is not a big deal – if you plan on buying a new handsets and then unlock it, you should buy it unlocked in the first place. If you are interesting in buying unlocked cell phones, you might want to check the following popular models from Amazon:

Motorola RAZR V3 Black Phone (Unlocked)
LG KG800 Chocolate Black phone (Unlocked)
Nokia 6800 Cell Phone (Unlocked)
Sony Ericsson Z710i Twilight Black Phone (Unlocked)

Obtain an unlock code. You will usually find services around the net which will allow you to obtain an unlock code for your handset model. Some independent cell phone stores will also offer you to unlock your handset for a fee. You should keep the unlock code carefully in case your phone “relocks” itself – some carriers have been known to do this even when you did not buy the phone from them in the first place.

By locking cell phones, carriers are offering you a service at a higher cost and tend to develop less features since it makes the competition stagnate. By buying unlocked cell phones, you are also making a statement against this practice. What do you think about unlocked cell phones? Are they worth it? Share your comments with us below.

 
Kam January 22, 2008 at 9:58 am

I like the way you’ve organized this very informative plus a cost/benefits analysis of unlocked cell phones. The only thing thats bad about unlocked phones right now in the united states is their costs but some carriers are starting to sell them with service plans so you can get one for cheap with a contract and than at the end of your contract you have an unlocked phone and u can move on to the next carrier if you don’t like the service of your current carriers. I think unlocked cell phones are going to make carriers more responsible and reliable as computation grows to hold on to their customers.

pinky witty December 9, 2009 at 3:44 pm

thank you for sharing such great information.. that’s very great to know!

nate December 24, 2009 at 7:15 pm

great! …now could you name some sites that unlock ’em?

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