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Phone Unlocking
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Phone Unlocking. You might of heard of someone who has had this done to their phone or perhaps you placed another SIM card in your phone and it was rejected. Some individuals will offer to unlock your phone for you for a price.

So why would a phone be locked in the first place and why would you want to unlock it?

What are Phone Locks?

Virtually any handset sold in North America is locked to the service provider from which you are paying a monthly service fee. Providers often sell their handsets at a loss and to ensure that they make their loss back on you they take a few common approaches, such as a signed 24 or 36 month contract or crippling the handset in some fashion so you can't take your phone elsewhere for service.

The idea of selling you a restricted product is nothing new. For example, vehicles sold with the 'On-Star' system come complete with a cell phone and GPS system, yet they are locked into the 'On-Star' service contract. Doesn't seem fair that you are paying for that cell phone and GPS system, yet if you want to use it you pay a subscription fee for your own equipment.

In the cellular phone market, there are two different types of phone locks that you should be aware of:
A Subsidy Lock or often expressed as a "SP-Lock" is where the firmware inside the phone is altered in such a way that it will only work on the provider's network that you purchased it from. If you try to activate a SP-locked handset on another network it will not work, simply because the handset is missing information or restricted in what networks it is allowed to talk to. In fact, there is a whole separate FAQ on SP-lock if you would like to learn more about it. Handsets that are SP-Locked are usually on CDMA or tdMA networks.

A variation on the SP-lock mentioned above is a SIM card lock. Only GSM handsets have SIM cards and service providers don't want their customers to pop out their SIM card and swap in a card of another GSM service provider. The handset is not really crippled in the same way as the SP-lock, but the phone will only accept one service provider's SIM card. Handsets that are SIM-Locked are always on GSM networks.

Reasons for Unlocking

The most obvious reason for having your phone unlocked is so that you can use another provider's services.

The second likely reason to have your phone unlocked is so that you can temporarily use another provider's SIM card in your phone. This might be because you are roaming overseas and don't want to pay high roaming fees for the two weeks you are away and it would be a lot cheaper to buy a pre-paid SIM and airtime.

Your Decision to Unlock or Not

It is really up to you to deal with your morals over if you feel okay having your phone unlocked. Unlocking almost treads into the same realm as running 3 TV's off one cable subscription or taking 2 newspapers out of the coin box when you have only paid for one.

My opinion is that if your sole purpose is to dump your current provider and attempt to sign up with a competitor, then you are essentially ripping off the service provider. Now if your purpose is to use your phone abroad with pre-paid SIMs and cards and places beyond your service provider's coverage footprint then that is more acceptable.

Of course, your phone might already be unlocked so you won't have to make this decision. You might of even specifically purchased an unlocked phone (they are more expensive since their would be no subsidy for the service provider). If you own a GSM phone it is a quick test to find out if your handset is indeed locked: place another provider's SIM in your phone (e.g., swap a Fido SIM for a Rogers SIM) and see what happens.

Will the Unlock Work?

If you own a CDMA or tdMA handset, then likely not. As mentioned above, these handsets are crippled in their firmware, so even with an unlocking code the handset is completely useless on any other network unless you can have the firmware updated to the new service providers' network.

If you own a GSM handset, then likely so. There are two methods of unlocking a handset: one is by using unlocking codes and the other is by using cables connected to a computer. The computer cables are a lot more successful, but usually more expensive as well.

How do I Get My Phone Unlocked?

There are a few different approaches you can take to get your phone unlocked:
  • Ask your service provider. You likely won't get the unlocking codes from them unless they feel really nice. If you have been a customer for many years then you might have a better chance.

  • Arrange to buy unlocking codes over the internet. You send your phone's IMEI (=serial number), make and model number to someone and they send you back the codes specific to your handset. These numbers are generated since someone has figured out the decoding sequence for the handset's manufacturer.

  • You either send your phone off or take your phone to someone that will use computer cables to unlock your phone.
For the last two options, you can find some of the individuals that will unlock your phone for you on the GeckoBeachForums unlocking page.

I should also mention here that there is a North American policy between GSM providers that they will, upon request, release the unlocking codes to another service provider if you wish to take your handset to another service provider. You make the request to the new service provider and then they request the unlocking codes from your old service provider so that the new provider may update the handset for their network. Note that you will not receive the unlocking codes. I have heard this policy from a few sources, but I cannot give an actual reference to the policy, therefore if you have problems convincing a GSM service provider with this policy then don't give up... others have been successful and sometimes it just takes taking to the right person.



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