Unlock Cell Phone Services
Are you looking for an unlock cell phone service? First,
let's discuss the meaning of this type of offering. For
example, what does it mean? Why do we as customers care about
it? Is it still needed, or is it now obsolete? How
does it related to prepaid wireless?
What Are Unlocked Cell Phones?
Historically both prepaid and postpaid carriers locked cell phones they
sold to only work on their own network. The reason being as
simple as it keeps you from easily switching to a different
provider. Consider postpaid as a good example.
Carriers would sell you a highly subsidized phone (ex. you pay $200 for
a $700 phone), and in return you sign a contract that requires that you
stay with them for 2-3 years. This provides a financial
safeguard that they don't lose money on you. Realistically,
if you were to leave before the 2 year period, they literally could
lose money on you due to the upfront phone subsidy they gave you.
Prepaid carriers also historically provided subsidies, particularly on
higher end phones. Think about the early days of prepaid,
which catered towards the budget conscious, low end of the
market. Those customers would not want to spend hundreds of
dollars buying a phone, especially for the privilege a service with
limited features. Thus, carriers subsidized phones in order
to make the initial sale less painful. That said, they didn't
offer subsidies as rich as postpaid carriers.
Thus, an unlocked cell phone removes this carrier restriction, allowing
the phone to work on any compatible network.
Unlock Cell Phone Service Used To Be Meaningless
After you fulfilled your contract, postpaid carriers would unlock your
cell phone either for free or for a nominal fee. The reality
at the time, however, was that taking an unlocked cell phone to another
carrier wasn't really feasible. It was useful for traveling
outside of the country when wanting to use a foreign SIM card in order
to use local services to save money. Though, realistically,
this wasn't a huge issue that customers were pining for, as local
carriers in North America wouldn't let you activate phones from other
carriers on their networks. They wanted to preserve the full
customer experience, and didn't want to troubleshoot phones for which
they never sold or tested on their networks. So having an
unlocked cell phone wasn't particularly beneficial to customers.
What changed the landscape that lead to the desire to unlock cell
phones was the advent of Bring
Your Own Device
programs. Carriers started to realize that the cost to sell a
phone could be avoided by simply allowing customers to bring their
own. Consider that even with unsubsidized phones, carriers
don't make money selling them; they make money selling you the
recurring monthly service and value added features.
Sure, they lose control over the customer experience, and incur some
additional costs supporting phones that may not work properly on their
networks. However, the overall business benefit made
sense. Particularly now that iPhones and Android phones
largely have a consistent user experience, making them easier to
support. In addition, now that cell phones essentially have
100%+ market penetration, the easiest way to get new customers is to
steal them from competitors. This is much easier to do when
we can continue using the same phone!
Do You Need to Pay to Unlock Your Cell Phone?
Over the years a number of third party companies emerged online to help
customers acquire unlock codes when carriers wouldn't provide the
required code. For a nominal fee ($10-$20), you could unlock
your phone and take it to another carrier that didn't officially
support a BYOD program. HOWEVER, in recent years the need for
this has changed.
Most carriers will now provide a free unlock code once you're out of
your contract, and prepaid carriers will often provide it after a fixed
period of time (ex. 6 months), or simply whenever you call to request
it. Moreover, Federal laws have been implemented that require
carriers to provide it. They do have certain provisions to
help protect carriers from losing money, however, the spirit that
they're trying to enforce is that when you purchase a phone, it's yours
to do with as you please, and carriers can't lock you out of using your
phone however you wish. It's all about consumer rights
Thus, in my opinion, many of these unlock cell phone services are now
obsolete and completely unnecessary. First, simply call your
carrier and ask them to help you unlock it. Note that there
are different types of unlocks. The first lets you use your
phone when traveling internationally, which will NOT allow you to
activate it on another carrier in North America. The second
is a full unlock, which allows you to activate it on ANY carrier that
has a compatible network. Note that most modern smartphones
will work on virtually any network technology running on any frequency.
If this approach fails you, then by all means, go ahead and pay for an
unlock cell phone service! Lastly, you'll now see a lot of
phones being advertised as coming fully unlocked right out of the box;
that's definitely a feature worth keeping your eyes out for.
FCC Resource Regarding Cell
Should you choose to use one of these services, here's a
couple of recommendations (with which I have NO affiliation):