Are you thinking of switching to another mobile carrier? You might have been told that you need to “unlock” your phone first. This guide will explain what unlocked phones are, why they are locked, and how to unlock them.
Locked vs Unlocked Smartphone
When you purchase a smartphone in North America, it is going to be likely “locked” to a mobile carrier. This means that you can only use that smartphone for that specific carrier’s network. Before you can switch to another carrier, the phone has to be “unlocked” first. Phone unlocking is different from jailbreaking and rooting, which involves removing the software restrictions imposed by iOS and Android.
Locked smartphones can only work on its carrier’s network. For example, you bought an iPhone from AT&T on contract. Your iPhone will only accept an AT&T SIM card and function on AT&T’s network. So if you insert a T-Mobile SIM card into it, the iPhone will reject the T-Mobile SIM card and the phone won’t function.
Having a locked phone can get in the way if you travel to another country because you will have to pay additional fees per minute every time you call or use data. You won’t be able to use a local SIM card in the country you’re visiting because your locked phone will reject it.
Why Are Smartphones Locked?
High-end smartphones like the iPhone 6s and iPhone 6s Plus are very expensive – at least $649 and $749 respectively. Mobile carriers make these phones more attractive to customers by bringing down their prices in exchange for a two-year contract. They subsidize a big portion of the purchase price so you end up paying only a fraction of the cost.
The contract ensures that customers will stay with the carrier until it is able to recoup its subsidy over the course of the contract. That’s why there is such a thing as an ETF or Early Termination Fee if you end the contract before it expires.
What Are the Benefits of an Unlocked Smartphone?
- You don’t have to stick to your mobile carrier. There are many reasons why people want to switch: bad network, expensive monthly fees, better offers by the competition, etc. When you unlock your phone, you can switch effortlessly between carriers. You’ll be free to choose the best carrier and plan to suit your specific needs.
- You’ll get better coverage. GSM devices (phones with SIM card slots) that are unlocked can be used anywhere in the world as long as you purchase a local SIM card. You won’t have to worry about expensive roaming fees and loss of coverage because you can easily switch SIM cards wherever you are.
- You can save money in the long run. You have to shell out money to unlock your phone but it is going to be worth it in the end. You won’t have to pay a subscription fee and you are free to switch to another carrier if you want to change your current plan.
- You can customize your phone any way you want. Locked smartphones have pre-installed applications and settings by their mobile carrier. With an unlocked phone, you can change the settings however you want and you won’t be limited by a software lock.
- You won’t have to worry about losing your phone. Yes, it is a pain to lose your phone but it’s more painful if it is still under contract. Early termination fees (ETFs) are expensive, plus you have to shell out more money to buy a new phone. With an unlocked phone, you just need to buy another phone (without that extra ETF burden on your shoulders).
- You can sell an unlocked phone more easily. With all the benefits that come with an unlocked phone, you can ask for a higher resale price for it. You can also sell the unlocked phone even outside the United States because the phone can accept any SIM card.
How Do You Unlock a Smartphone?
You can go different routes if you want to unlock your phone.
- Call your mobile carrier. Some mobile carriers will unlock your phone for you once your contract has expired or as long as you’ve paid off anything you owe on the phone. There may be an unlocking fee but it is still worth a shot.
- Unlock it yourself. Phone unlocking is now legal in the US, so you won’t have to worry about breaking the law. Just do a web search and you will be able to find instructions on how to unlock your phone.
- Have your phone unlocked by iCare Phone Repair. All iCare locations offer unlocking services on major smartphone brands and carriers. The unlocking process may take different turnaround times, from 12 hours to 7 business days, depending on how old the phone model is and the carrier. You can call any of our locations to find out more about unlocking your phone.