Carrier unlocking policies: Unlocking phones may be legal, but carriers still have their guidelines

Carrier unlocking policies: Unlocking phones may be legal, but carriers still have their guidelines
While one could argue that the passage of the Unlocking Consumer Choice and Wireless Competition Act was an important milestone in mobile device market, the reality has not really changed. Even when the act of unlocking a phone became illegal, it was not proactively enforced, and it was possible to get phones unlocked anyway.

For the wireless carriers, it remained within their purview to unlock mobile devices, and with the new law on the books, that remains the case today.

For those of us that follow the official guidelines, the passage of the new “unlocking” law is pretty much meaningless. If you have a device with one of the major carriers, chances are that device is locked to the carrier’s network, with few exceptions.

For those of us that do not concern ourselves with such guidelines, the new “unlocking” law only enables more services to offer the resources needed to unlock phones for a fee. That these services were available even when it was “illegal” is also beside the point.

For the carriers, not much has changed. In view of the new law, there may have been some subtle changes to their respective unlocking policies. We decided to pass along a summary of those policies.  Note that for those that serve in the military, there are usually exceptions that are granted for when orders are issued that require change in station, either within the US, or overseas.  Each summary is linked to the carrier's policy page.


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15 Comments

1. Droid_X_Doug

Posts: 5993; Member since: Dec 22, 2010

Aren't the phones 'effectively' looked based on the frequency bands supported/unsupported by the handset? VZW 4G/LTE phones have cellular radios that for the most part, are not compatible with, for example, T-Mo's 4G/LTE network. Right? Or, is there a magic compatibility frequency band?

2. NexusPhan

Posts: 632; Member since: Jul 11, 2013

Depends. As we get better universal LTE chips, unlocking will become more and more important. For example, an unlocked Verizon iPhone 5s with it's universal LTE chip can be used on T-Mobile and it will be identical to an iPhone 5s bought from a T-mobile store. We will see more and more phones like this (Nexus 5 is the same minus Verizon) thus unlocking will help drive down the prices of used phones.

4. PapaSmurf

Posts: 10457; Member since: May 14, 2012

You'll get T-Mo LTE, but you won't get 3G, and that's a big deal.

6. NexusPhan

Posts: 632; Member since: Jul 11, 2013

Actually, all iPhone 5S models have full support for GSM. That's why Verizon considers it a "Global Phone" It will get 3G (and HSPA, HSPA+, EDGE, GPRS) See:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/IPhone_5S

3. CraalLegacy unregistered

Worst article ever. Ofc there's going to be guidelines on when ur phone can be unlocked!

10. Jason78

Posts: 281; Member since: Apr 10, 2013

Yes, there are guidelines. Maybe some people want to know what those guidelines are.

5. gd761

Posts: 213; Member since: Sep 18, 2012

You can Unlock a Sprint Phone as long as it is to be Unlocked and Used on Sprint because Sprint will NOT GUARANTEE that the Phone will work. This is what SHOULD be written in PLAIN ENGLISH so ANYONE can Understand the B.S. about getting their Phones UNLOCKED.

7. NexusPhan

Posts: 632; Member since: Jul 11, 2013

Speaking of plain English, I have no idea what you're trying to say.

11. gd761

Posts: 213; Member since: Sep 18, 2012

If you look at the Specs of some of the New Smartphones on the Market, the Specs are the EXACT SAME no matter which Carrier they are Activated on, so getting it UNLOCKED should Not be a Problem at all, but according to Sprint, it is. They give you a Runaround to dissuade you from Unlocking ANY Cellphones on their Network so they can be Used Anywhere. Take the HTC ONE (M7) or (M8) for instance. The Specs are the EXACT SAME for ALL CARRIERS, so what the heck is Sprint saying about the Phones will NOT Work?! Total B.S.!!!!!!

13. VZWuser76

Posts: 4974; Member since: Mar 04, 2010

While most of the specs are the same, I doubt the bands are. Even if they have the ability to do global roaming, many times the bands for other carriers in the US are excluded. So while I could use a Verizon phone in Europe, I may not be able to use it on an American GSM carrier. And usually if I can get voice service, you won't be getting LTE for data, it'll most likely be HSPA or Edge. As far as voice, going between Verizon and Sprint (and vice versa) they have meid number that effectively locks them to their respective CDMA carrier. The hope is that once all the US carriers switch to VoLTE, and OEMS start offering one phone for all carriers (that'd be software locked to the specific carrier at time of sale) a person would then be able to unlock it after the fact, similarly to how they unlock certain bands for global use. Of course the carriers I'm sure will fight this tooth and nail, but hopefully that'll be the outcome.

8. Augustine

Posts: 1043; Member since: Sep 28, 2013

When I got some phones donated, though not a customer of ATT, they promptly gave me the codes to unlock the donated phones with their brand. Though a customer of TMUS, they refused to unlock the donated phones with their brand, just the one I myself was donating.

9. 0xFFFF

Posts: 3806; Member since: Apr 16, 2014

All phones bought at full price off contract should automatically be unlocked without any action required and without any limits. The carrier already made a big profit on the phone. They should no longer be able to screw the customer.

14. VZWuser76

Posts: 4974; Member since: Mar 04, 2010

I absolutely agree. They seem to act like even though you bypassed them and paid the full price, that you're only renting. One of the few times where you buy something and it's not yours to do with as you please. They my have contracted to sell the phone, but once you pay full price or complete the terms of your contact with them (2 year agreement), it should be yours to do with as you please, period.

12. InspectorGadget80 unregistered

You still may have to pay a fee to get your phone unlocked. If you pay the phone u SHOYLDNT BE forced to have permission to unlocked your phone.

15. mike2959

Posts: 694; Member since: Oct 08, 2011

I just tried to have a old iPhone 4s from Sprint unlocked. After 4 phone calls and hour's on the phone they all basically told me to pound salt. Emailed a couple places that unlocks phone's, they also said it cannot be done.

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