An unlocked cell phone means you can travel abroad or use your phone on different carriers. Your phone accepts a SIM card from another network (in most cases) or from another provider, and you can make calls, surf the web, and send text messages as you normally do.
If you want to use another carrier's SIM card in your mobile phone, you can check that it is unlocked. Once unlocked, the phone is yours as you wish, but until then you're stuck with the original network provider.
Why lock a smartphone?
While it certainly makes sense that a carrier would want to lock down the features of their specific models, it made reselling or refurbishing smartphones a messy process for anyone who wasn't a high-level tech genius, which resulted in tons of smartphone trash.
Most carriers will sell you a device on an installment or lease plan. Until this phone is refunded, it will remain locked to this company's network. Older phones were not always compatible with other carriers because they had carrier-specific attributes.
Over the years, more and more phones are offered as unlocked, which means they are carrier-free. However, having an unlocked phone does not automatically mean that you can use any phone on any network. A little information gathering will save you a lot of frustration, so be sure to learn the history of the device and which carrier initially locked it.
Your carrier can unlock your phone for you once specific criteria are met, or you can purchase an unlocked device. It's safest to buy an unlocked device directly from the manufacturer, but you can find these compatible cell phones for less on eBay and other third-party seller sites.
Since not all phones come unlocked from original equipment manufacturers (OEMs), it's critical to know if an existing device works outside of the current carrier.
What is the benefit of an unlocked phone?
Locking or unlocking a phone makes no difference in installing apps or performing routine tasks on a smartphone, such as sending text messages, making phone calls, and browsing the web. That said, there are other differences between an unlocked and a locked device.
While Apple directly handles updates for all of its phones, Android updates are usually released by the carrier after the manufacturer has finished building software for the device. OS updates for Android devices may be blocked by "carrier testing", while unlocked devices and devices on other carriers have already completed the update.
Apple's market share is so powerful that it can essentially circumvent carrier restrictions like Verizon and AT&T. Android makers don't have that kind of leverage with carriers. They need to sell their devices in stores to earn money and are ready to load their phone with carrier-branded apps and sponsored bloatware. Many Android fans uninstall or disable these add-ons on their device.
Unlocked devices don't always have improved support over Carrier models, though. Unlocked versions of the Galaxy S7 and S7 Edge were notoriously dropped on the Android 6.0 Marshmallow operating system for months longer than service provider models.
All in all, if you are an Apple enthusiast, the only difference between an unlocked and locked iPhone is the ability to use your device on other carriers. On Android, software updates will arrive at different times and your device will include pre-installed apps that may or may not be of interest to you.
Your smartphone may have carrier branding on the back or, in some cases, the front of your device. However, some manufacturers are finally starting to move away from it. Of course, you will be able to use your device on the operator of your choice, while benefiting from features such as WiFi calling and HD voice.
How do I know if my phone is unlocked?
If you purchased your phone through a carrier, either with a two-year contract or a monthly payment plan, your phone is locked to that service provider, even if they support other phone service companies . Since you have entered into a contract with this specific carrier, you will need to stick with it until the contract is terminated or the payment plan is paid in full. After that, you can unlock it if you haven't already, and you can use it on your carrier of choice.
How do you know if your device's SIM card is unlocked after you pay for it? Well, the answer depends on the phone you are using and whether or not it supports multiple carriers. Let's take a closer look.
Is my iPhone unlocked?
If you are an iOS user, the answer is quite simple. Either you bought your device directly from Apple (either at full price or through their iPhone Upgrade Program), through a third party (assuming the seller didn't have a carrier agreement before the purchase), or via your operator.
Know where you bought it
If you got your device directly from Apple, you had a choice of buying a model from a pre-selected carrier or getting a SIM-free iPhone. If you choose the latter, your device is already unlocked and you can use any SIM card and get full signal on any carrier.
Check Settings – iOS 14
iOS 14 allows users to see if there are any SIM restrictions directly from phone settings. All you have to do is open 'Settings', scroll down and tap 'General', then 'About'. If you see "No SIM restrictions" next to "Carrier Lock," your iPhone is unlocked.
Try another SIM card
Alternatively, you can turn off your phone, place a new SIM card (for your new carrier) in the SIM tray on the side of the iPhone, then turn the device back on.
Try making a phone call or using mobile data to see if your device supports your carrier, but make sure you have active service first. If the phone is making calls, you are ready to use it on another network. If not, or if you receive an “unrecognized SIM” error message, the phone is locked.
Is my Android phone locked?
Unfortunately, Android doesn't have the ability to check SIM restrictions in Settings like newer iPhones do. But that doesn't mean you're out of luck.
Try another SIM card
The Android operating system is used in a wide range of devices from manufacturers, so it's a bit more difficult to provide instructions for each model. Basically, if your phone has a removable back, you'll find the SIM card under the battery or in the frame next to it.
If your phone doesn't have a removable battery, you can find the SIM slot on the side or top of the phone. Look for a recessed pinhole in the outline of a tray. Using a SIM popper, earring, or paperclip, open the tray and insert another carrier's SIM card.
Call your operator
At one point, we could enter our IMEI for an Android on another carrier's website to determine the lock status. However, our most recent tests in May 2022 proved this to be incredibly unreliable. Using a locked Note 20, all major carriers returned an eligible device status. This is clearly not the case.
So the best is to call your current carrier to find out the status of the IMEI. If you are purchasing a device from a third party, it is recommended that you meet the other person at the store of the carrier of your choice to ensure that it will work properly before exchanging any money.
Although your phone is unlocked, it may not work properly with another carrier. There are several reasons why your specific smartphone or the one you buy will not work.
Here are the two main reasons why your unlocked phone cannot activate on a specific carrier.
- Blacklist : Before buying a phone, check that the IMEI is not blacklisted. A blacklisted device is usually reported as stolen or lost and therefore will not activate on any carrier.
- CDMA vs GSM : Some models are not compatible between networks. AT&T/T-Mobile (GSM) iPhone X is not compatible with Verizon or Sprint Network (CDMA).
You should also note that some features will not work properly if the phone was purchased from a GSM carrier and activated on a CDMA carrier. The same situation occurs in the other direction.
Is my phone compatible with another operator?
Each of the four major carriers allows you to check your current IMEI on their website. If you are currently a Verizon customer and want to access Sprint, you can visit Sprint's website, enter your IMEI, and it will tell you whether your device will work or not. Just be aware that if the website says it's compatible, that doesn't exclusively mean it's unlocked.
To check your IMEI compatibility visit the site of your choice:
- Sprint (T-Mobile with success acquired Sprint April 1, 2022, so use the T-Mobile link below)
- T Mobile
Prepaid users can also check their IMEIs using the new carrier's website of their choice. Whether you go with Boost, Straight Talk, or another provider, visit that company's website to check compatibility.
How to find my IMEI
If you don't know your phone's IMEI number, there are three ways to find it on Android and Apple devices.
The SIM tray – Look in the SIM tray, assuming it is the original component with the device, and you will see the IMEI on the side. The characters will be very small, so take a magnifying glass or use your phone's camera to enlarge the text.
The settings – iPhone users can use "Settings -> General -> About" to find their IMEI. Android users can access “Settings -> About phone. »
The back of your device – Older Android and iPhone devices displayed the IMEI on the back of the device. If your IMEI is there, it will be near the bottom, assuming you haven't replaced the back of your phone. Really older models put the IMEI under the removable battery.
How can I unlock my smartphone?
If your device has the ability to pick up various networks beyond the one it was designed for, you are free to insert any SIM card into your device.
Here's what the four national carriers have to say about whether devices purchased through their carrier stores (or through resellers like Best Buy) support other carriers.
Is my Verizon phone unlocked?: Surprisingly, Verizon has been pretty relaxed about customers keeping smartphones unlocked. All devices sold through Verizon have a 60 day locked timeout after activation, but will then be unlocked.
Verizon will even let you switch the device's SIM card to another carrier while you're on contract. Of course, you'll still have to pay your monthly Verizon bill. There's no number to call or unlock code to enter. Almost all devices sold through the operator can be used without any effort on your part. Verizon used to be one of the most locked carriers of the 2000s before their LTE network launched, so their total of 180 on unlock devices is refreshing and welcome.
Is my AT&T phone unlocked?: By following this link, you will be able to check your unlock status and availability. The general policy is that you can use any device purchased through AT&T on another carrier, as long as the device supports it. Unfortunately, you will have to jump through a few hurdles to get there.
Your device's IMEI number cannot be reported as stolen or missing, your account must be in "good standing" with no missed payments or large balances owing, and your device must have been active on AT&T for 60 days. Assuming you encounter the…