Mobility

New freedom for unlocked US mobile devices

US mobile devices have now obtained a new-found freedom with SIM unlocking. Jack Wallen shares his thoughts on this new world order.

Last week, unlocking devices in the US became significantly easier. This is a real boon for consumers because it means those devices can now go to whatever carrier they wish. No more carrier-lock in. You want to use a device sold by one carrier on your carrier's network? No problem.

Sort of.

Before I go into this ─ I will say that, in some cases moving a device from one network to another already works. I tested this by taking an AT&T SIM card and placing it into different Verizon phones. They worked. The only hitch was a warning in the notification bar that the SIM was not from Verizon. The opposite, however, did not work. Slipping the Verizon SIM into the AT&T device was not successful. Why is that? Simple.

Sort of.

Now that the unlocking of devices has become easier, what needs to take place in order for you to swap phones from one carrier to another?

  • Devices must be fully paid off
  • Accounts must be in good standing
  • Prepaid devices will qualify for unlocking no later than one year after activation
  • Military personnel can have devices unlocked (regardless of payment status) upon presenting deployment orders
  • There is no cost for current customers and non-customers can have unlocking done at a "reasonable cost"
  • If your device is paid off, and you find it still locked, you will need to contact your carrier to have them send the unlock code to the device

Paid off. That's the hitch. Because of the exorbitant cost of smartphone devices in the US (an unlocked Droid Turbo will run you around $599.00) the vast majority of US consumers will either only just have their devices paid off when it's time to upgrade or when their contracts are up and they are able to move to a new carrier. So, for many, this is almost a moot point. Most consumers simply aren't willing to drop the cash up front for an unlocked device.

However, for those that hold onto devices, or businesses that purchase devices straight up, this is big news.

Sort of.

There is one other catch in this issue.

Cell tower compatibility.

  • Verizon and Sprint: CDMA only
  • T-Mobile US and AT&T: GSM

That means, in order to switch a phone to a different carrier, the device needs to be supported by that carrier's network. Some devices (such as most flagship phones) support both GSM and CDMA. Other devices are single-network only. If you happen to have a multi-network device, you're good to go. If not, you'll be limited to what carrier the device will work with.

Speaking of devices ... another piece to the puzzle is the type of device. There are, effectively, two kinds:

  • Master Subsidy Lock (MSL) ─ require MSL code from carrier to override SIM lock
  • Domestic SIM Unlock-capable (DSU) ─ can receive over-the-air unlock command from carrier

You won't know what kind of device you have, without contacting your carrier. Your carrier will, most likely, include information in your next bill regarding the unlocking of your device. If your device falls into the MSL category, you will have to take the time to get the unlock code from your carrier and enter it manually (this prompt will occur when you power on a device with an out-of-carrier SIM card). If your device falls into the DSU category, the unlocking code will be sent automatically and your device can be used on any supporting network.

This new world order doesn't just apply to smartphones. Your tablets, hotspots, and some laptops will be open to move about from carrier to carrier. If you can keep ahold of that device until it's paid off, you're now free to move your favorite piece of mobile tech from network to network.

Do you have a paid off device you are anxious to take to a new network? Does this new-found SIM freedom have any effect on you, your company, or devices you manage?

Read more about mobility:

Pro tip: Switch between tabs in Android Chrome

Cautionary tale: Fancy case won't buy you a new phone

8 apps to help you monitor data usage on your mobile device

Smartphones: The state of the market

About Jack Wallen

Jack Wallen is an award-winning writer for TechRepublic and Linux.com. He’s an avid promoter of open source and the voice of The Android Expert. For more news about Jack Wallen, visit his website jackwallen.com.

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