Life without cell phones is unimaginable today. No matter where you are around the globe, being connected is very important. With many service providers around, we have plenty of choices. However, some service providers lock your phone so that it works exclusively with their service. This makes it impossible for a user to move on to another service provider. However, if you own the phone, you have a right to get it unlocked and gain service provider portability.
Which Ones Can be Unlocked?
By an unlocked cell phone, I mean a phone that can be used with any service provider. That is, it has service provider portability.
There are two types: GSM(Global System For Mobiles) and CDMA (Code Division Multiple Access) phones. These are two different technologies. CDMA based phones, made available by service providers, are locked for life. That is, you cannot use them with any other service provider. In case you want to, you will have to just buy a new phone. So, CDMA phones cannot be unlocked. In North America, if your service provider is Verizon or Sprint, you have a CDMA based phone and you cannot get it unlocked.
The other technology, which is GSM, offers service portability, through the use of SIM (Subscriber Identity Module) card. In North America, AT&T, as well as T-Mobile offer GSM mobile phones. However, some service providers lock them through use of a software, that links the phone's identity number with the SIM card so that it cannot be used with any other service. Why do cell phone companies do that? One obvious reason is that they want you to use their service exclusively and earn through roaming charges, when you travel into regions out of their service bounds. This condition can be reversed; however, and the phone can be unlocked.
Is it legal? In USA, there are no specific laws about unlocking. However, most GSM service providers can unlock your phone on request. You should request information about it, from your own service provider, as it is totally dependent on them and mobile manufacturers.
If you have a GSM mobile phone, there are ways in which you can get it unlocked. The procedure depends on the handset model and the service provider. The phone can be unlocked on air, by the service provider, or it may be unlocked by entering a specific code, supplied by them.
Some companies unlock phones, only after the contract that you have with them, expires. Once your cell phone is unlocked, it generally stays that way.
Firstly, check whether your GSM handset is locked, by inserting a SIM card of another service provider. If it doesn't work, then you can contact your service provider and ask the customer service executive to get it unlocked.
T-Mobile does unlock your mobile phone on request, while AT&T only unlocks it, after your contract with them has expired. Some service providers like T-Mobile ask you to e-mail the IMEI (International Mobile Equipment Identity) number. In case, you do not own the phone under the contract, you will have to pay the full premium for it. They will also need a proof of your ownership of the phone, in the form of a purchase receipt photocopy, that you may need to fax them. Then they reply with a unique code, that unlocks your phone. The IMEI code is unique for every mobile phone and it can be seen by entering *#06#. You better note it down somewhere, as in case your phone is stolen, that code may help you in retrieving it.
Some websites offer to unlock your mobile phone for a service fee, but it is best to get it done from your service provider.