Have you ever unlocked a smartphone so that you could drop in a new SIM and take it to another carrier? Maybe some else has a better deal, or you’re traveling internationally and want to make sure you’re taking advantage of the cheapest local rates. Whatever your reason, removing a phone’s carrier lock is something that plenty of smartphone users find themselves interested in. And while you might have a general idea of under what circumstances your carrier will unlock your phone for you, do you know what to expect if you went with a different network? What about if you wanted to unlock a prepaid phone? The good news is that the rules are about to get a lot simpler, as the big four networks in the Sates (as well as US Cellular) get ready to adopt some unified CTIA-backed terms for carrier unlocking.
A lot of this is probably going to sound familiar, with these rules heavily based on existing ones, but here’s what to expect starting February 11, when the new rules go into effect:
For subsidized devices, you’ll need to complete your initial contract. If you bought the phone on installments, you’ll have to pay it off. With prepaid hardware, the carriers have a little leeway, but will be required to unlock within a year of when it was activated. And if you’re in the military and are about to be deployed, your phone will be unlocked following proof of your orders, no matter whether your hardware is fully paid up or not.
If you’re still a customer of a carrier when you request an unlock, the service will be provided for free. Carriers will be allowed to charge “reasonable” fees for the rest of us.
Finally, we’re about to see a new form of unlocking start hitting phones, as new hardware takes advantage of OTA unlocks – no more codes, just a signal from your carrier that removes your phone’s network lock. That’s especially cool because some carriers (Sprint is mentioned in this report) will automatically unlock such phones as soon as they’re paid off (or your contract’s fulfilled).