Bring Your Own Device!
What does Bring Your Own Device mean? This term has been
around for a long time, however, in recent years it has become more
common. It's usually referred to in its short form,
BYOD. Wireless carriers
use the term to refer to customers bringing a device they already own,
that was typically purchased from a different carrier,
and activating it on their network.
Note that this goes well beyond simply bringing an unused phone from a
particular carrier back to the same carrier to activate service.
It means that you can bring ANY phone that's compatible with
the carrier's cellular network, regardless of where you originally
bought it. In other words, if you own a Sprint phone, you
theoretically activate it on dozens of differing Sprint MVNOs, which
all use the Sprint network, and are therefore technologically
In addition, now that the GSM vs. CDMA battle is behind us, and the
worldwide standard is 4G LTE, coupled with smartphones that support
multiple frequencies and wireless bands, your ability to bring you
phone to virtually any wireless provider has exponentially increased.
Historically, especially in North America, even providers like MVNOs
that obviously work on their host's network, wouldn't allow you to
phones to their service. Essentially, once you buy a phone
that works on one carrier's network, it forever into the future can
only be used on that provider's service. So if you buy a
Sprint phone, you can't use it on Virgin Mobile, Boost Mobile, Ready
Mobile, kajeet, etc. The business model was really to control
the entire experience, including the physical hardware, even though
that isn't really the most profitable strategy.
Why Did Carriers Historically Restrict Phones?
Historically wireless providers wanted to control the customer
experience 100%. They spend a ton of money testing devices to
ensure that all
of the functions work properly, and the phone performs as it should.
This testing relates not only to the phone itself, but also
how it connects with the network; it really is a cellular ecosystem
that needs to work smoothly.
This delivers the best user experience, and avoids costs
later down the line when customers call with complaints and issues with
phones that the carrier many not know anything about. When
you look at it from this perspective, it sounds like a very logical
Also, a major concern has been that carriers historically subsidized
(even prepaid carriers, though that is becoming less common), which
means that if you don't continue service with them, they could lose
money. Postpaid carriers have historically had early contract
termination fees to mitigate
this issue; however, prepaid carriers can actually lose money if you
don't stay around long enough when they've subsidized the phone.
So if they unlock your phone
for you, or you otherwise find a way to unlock it on your own, and use
it on another compatible carrier's network, they could stand to
actually lose money. So in that sense, it wasn't as much
about keeping phones off their network, but locking phones to their
network to prevent costly switching.
So Why The Change Of Heart?
Wireless has evolved such that now, on average, people have at least on
(or more!) wireless phones. In other words, the game has
growth is no longer about getting new wireless customers (i.e. people
who have never had a wireless phone before) to essentially
customers from competitors. Allowing you to bring your
own phone allows them to broaden their reach. You may have a
perfectly good working phone that you enjoy using, and don't want to
carriers because that would mean that you would have to buy a new
phone. You may even have a case, a screen
protector, and other accessories that aren't compatible with other
Well, if you could take your phone with you, wouldn't you be
more open to more and better service options? The answer is a
resounding "of course"!
Does Any Phone Work?
There's one important element that any bring your own device program
is that the phone cannot be active on another network, and it cannot be
on their blacklist.
What this means, simply put, is that you must fulfill your
contract if you are on a postpaid plan before you can take that phone
to a carrier that has a bring your own device program.
Second, you cannot steal a phone and activate it.
This is a good thing as it protects everyone
but thieves, and is a very reasonable restriction.
How Is BYOD Different Than Phone Flashing?
Wireless dealers have been flashing compatible phones to
various networks for many many years. What's unique about
BYOD is that the carrier officially supports certain phones.
When you flash over a phone at a wireless dealer, not only
do you have to pay for that service, but there's no guarantee that all
of the features of the phone will work. Some will support
voice and text only (i.e. no data!), others will not support MMS (i.e.
picture messaging), and some will work 100% for all features.
You'll often never really know what will work until you try.
That said, even
with bring your own device programs, be sure to ask about these
features to ensure that there's no surprises.
Conclusion About BYOD
Generally speaking, this is a win-win for customers and carriers.
Wireless providers in European countries have long since
focused on service features, allowing customers to bring any phone
they want. These were historically countries using the GSM
customers there are used to paying full price for their phones (i.e.
un-subsidized). With LTE being the new worldwide standard,
the U.S. can now more easily support bringing your own device.
What Carriers Support Bring Your Own Device?
Note that many carriers have allowed flashed phones on their
network; some knowingly (ex. Legacy Cricket with their Customer
Equipment program, Page Plus, Simple Mobile, etc.), and others
There are so many carriers now that support it one way or the
other, and the number continues to grow everyday as people expect more
flexibility. In fact, many carriers actively promote "BYOD"
as a bonafide marketing strategy to encourage customers to switch for
little or no cost or headache. The following table summarizes
the various ways you
can ultimately bring your own phone to a given carrier.
- Usually best supported at an independent wireless
dealer for a nominal fee (usually no greater than $50).
- There are also software tools that you can purchase
to do your own flashing; this is for the technically inclined, and has
the greatest risk if something goes wrong.
- Given today's
landscape for open standards, this method is largely becoming obsolete.
- Any non-SIM-based wireless technology (ex. CDMA)
that the phone be flashed for use on their network. Carriers
support BYOD will flash the phone for you; there are usually no fees.
If they want to charge you, try negotiating to waive the fee
(they want you as a customer, and don't have to subsidize selling you a
- As LTE is a SIM-based
technology (whereas CDMA is not), this method is only really relevant
for older (non-4G) CDMA phones.
- Most SIM-based technologies (ex. GSM, LTE) will
enable you to
simply put a SIM card into any unlocked phone (i.e. it's not locked for
use on one network provider), and it will work.
- If you're out of contract with your existing carrier,
them and ask them to provide the unlock code; many will these days,
particularly if you're not on contract.
If not, you can purchase the code for under $20 on various
- Sometimes SIM-swapping won't quite register correctly
the network, and you may not be able to properly access all plans and
features properly. Also, sometimes unlocking a phone will
you to use international SIM cards, but won't allow the phone on
another domestic provider's network (even if the technology is the
same); if this is the case, phone flashing may also be required.
- Many carriers will now sell you a SIM for use in your
phone as part of their Bring Your Own Device program. While
won't guarantee that all features will work properly, there's more
support than with carriers that don't officially support SIM-swapping.
- This is largely
becoming the norm, and provides tremendous customer flexibility.