There was a time when buying a phone with a service provider – such as T-Mobile or AT&T – meant you’d be stuck with that carrier forever. However, nowadays, you can “unlock” your phone and change service providers. That could save you money or allow you to take advantage of features only offered by another wireless plan.
Or maybe you’re planning to travel internationally. If so, you may be thinking of buying a SIM card for the countries you’re going to – which is one of the ways we’ve recently proposed in 5 Essential Ways to Connect to the Web when traveling abroad. It is one of the cheapest and best methods for connecting to the web and making voice calls while abroad.
But with the exception of Verizon, which currently sells most unlocked phones, major U.S. wireless network providers still lock the majority of their phones so you can only use them on their networks. Thankfully, each service provider is ready to help you unlock your phone, provided that you (and your phone) meet certain requirements.
For example, all service providers will refuse to unlock a device if it is reported to be lost or stolen. And if your phone is still under contract, you usually (though not necessarily) need to complete the contract before unlocking it. Is there a prepaid phone? Usually, you will need to keep it active for a specific period of time before unlocking it. And there may be other, specific regulations of the service provider.
What kind of unlock code will you receive?
When you start unlocking your phone, you may come across the term “unlock code.” If you do, it will be useful to know that there are two different types.
1. MSL. Most phones released in the U.S. before February 2015 use disabling technology along with the Main Subsidy Key (MSL). That’s when the Consumer Code for Wireless Services became federal law. If the service provider gives you an MSL code, you need to present it to your new service providers in the hope that it will unlock the phone for use on their network.
2. DSU. Most phones launched after February 2015 use Digital SIM Unlock (DSU) technology. DSU-enabled phones are designed to unlock through the use of special software programming codes. If your service provider provides a DSU software code (along with instructions), you’ll be able to unlock the phone yourself.
Gsm is different from CDMA.
Another thing to consider: Four carriers have traditionally based their phones on different basic standards. AT&T and T-Mobile phones that support GSM standards are used in almost every country on the planet. Older Verizon and Sprint phones may only be equipped with the less popular CDMA standard, only for the U.S., but current models are more likely to offer both CDMA and GSM. However, as T-Mobile points out on its website, “not all phones, tablets, and mobile Internet devices are compatible among every mobile service provider.”
Unlock your AT&T phone
Unlocking your phone with AT&T is relatively easy. Everything you need to know and do is accessible from a few websites.
First, read AT&T Wireless’s policy statement (or call AT&T customer service) to find out if the phone,
whether your tablet, mobile hotspot, or other device is eligible for unlocking. For postpaid devices, the big requirement is that all installment plans have been completed and that any early termination fees have been paid in full.
If your device meets these requirements, you must fill out the online request form. You will then receive a confirmation email with the number of unlock requests. After you confirm the unlock request, AT&T will send you a response within two business days.
Assuming your request is approved, you can continue. AT&T will send you the unlock code via email with instructions on how to use it.
What happens if you’re using a prepaid GOPhone AT&T? Well, there’s an additional requirement that GoPhone be up and running for six months of paid service before unlocking it.
Regardless of whether you have a prepaid or postpaid phone, you can determine if your device is eligible to unlock on the myAT&T website.
Another thing: the iPhone doesn’t use an unlock code. So, if you own an AT&T iPhone, you can simply remove the AT&T SIM card and install the SIM card for the new service provider after receiving the approval notice from AT&T.
Unlock your T-Mobile phone
T-Mobile’s requirements are stricter than AT&T’s, and you’ll find more differences between rules for prepaid and prepaid devices.
For either type of phone, you won’t be eligible if you’ve requested more than two unlock codes for each service line in the past 12 months. In addition, at its discretion, T-Mobile may request proof of purchase from you.
The company also stipulates a number of additional requirements for each of these two types of phones. To give a few examples, the postpaid device must work on T-Mobile at least 40 days before you can make a request, even if there is no contract. If the device is prepaid, if the device must operate on T-Mobile for more than a year.
There are plenty of other requirements, so make sure to read all the fine prints or call T-Mobile’s support for more information.
In any case, your phone meets every request, everything becomes a little simpler.
You only use T-Mobile’s Mobile App to try to unlock the device. If your device doesn’t support this app, contact T-Mobile to ask for an unlock code and user instructions.
Unlock Verizon Wireless phone
Of all four major carriers, Verizon is the friendliest when it comes to unlocking. In fact, the company no longer locks any of its 3G or 4G devices, whether prepaid or postpaid, with the exception of three exceptions: 3G World Phones that are not iPhones, and also Phone devices in the 3G and 4G prepaid boxes.
The code for programming the World Phone is not a 3G iPhone for use with other service providers is 0000000 or 123456.
To be eligible for unlocking, prepaid 3G Phone-in-theBox devices are restricted to use with Verizon’s prepaid service for six months and used on Verizon’s network for a total of 12 months after activation.
On the other hand, before you can unlock the Phone in a 4G box, you must use it for a year with Verizon’s prepaid service or pay “the amount specified on the back of the Phone package in the box.”
After your family meets the requirements for the Phone in the box, you can call Verizon at 888-244-6804 for unlock instructions.
Unlock sprint phone
Sprint’s requirements are more complex than any of its rivals. Sprint makes the difference not only between postpaid and prepaid phones, but also between MSL and DSU-enabled devices and domestic and international networks. What a… confusing.
Since Sprint devices launched before February 2015 use MSL technology, these phones cannot be unlocked to accept the SIM cards of other domestic service providers for use on non-Sprint’s domestic network. “Sprint doesn’t have the technology process in place to do this,” the company argues on its website.
But Sprint has its own policy for international travel. Sprint “sometimes” can unlock a phone number that uses a SIM to allow it to work with a foreign carrier’s SIM card, thus allowing it to be used on the network abroad.
The recent iPhone and Samsung Galaxy models sold by Sprint are both unlockable domestically and internationally, while the older models in this line can only be unlocked internationally.
In general – and we regret the confusing acronyms coming up next – Sprint will unlock the DSU-enabled postpaid device or provide MSL for a postpaid device that doesn’t support the DSU if the customer has updated with all the payments to Sprint and meets some other lightweight regulations. In addition, customers must fulfill the terms of their contract with Sprint.
For customers with DSU-enabled devices, Sprint will only unlock the phone after they are eligible to unlock it. When the owner of an old phone is eligible to receive an MSL code from Sprint, Sprint sends the customer a bill message or text message.
However, if you consider yourself eligible to receive the code and have not yet received the code from Sprint, Sprint encourages you to call their customer service department.
In addition, Sprint will not unlock any of its international phones (Sprint Global).
For customers with prepaid phones, Sprint will unlock a DSU-enabled device or send an MSL code to an older device if the phone has been active on a prepaid account for at least twelve months.
However, Sprint also warns you that unlocking a Sprint device doesn’t necessarily mean that the phone will work well on another service provider’s network — or even that it will work entirely. For example, an unlocked, DSU-enabled Sprint phone can work with other voice services on the network, but doesn’t work with data, according to Sprint.