How You Can Take Advantage of Unlocked Cell Phones

In 2012, a decision by the United States Copyright Office made it illegal for American consumers to switch mobile carriers without a new cell phone and approval from their carrier. This summer, Congress passed a bipartisan bill that overrides the 2012 decision. The bill was signed into law by President Barack Obama.

The “Unlocking Consumer Choice and Wireless Competition Act” gives the average American more flexibility and choices. The ability to unlock a cell phone means it can be used with any wireless carrier, not just the one that originally sold the phone.

Now people can look for a carrier that meets their needs and budget without suffering a significant fiscal sanction. A report in the Latin Post says it took 19 months of advocacy for consumers to regain the legal right to unlock their phones.

The citizen activism paid off. So how can Americans take advantage of the result?

Who benefits the most from unlocked phones?

Millennials are ahead of the digital curve. Many own smartphones, and they use wireless Internet more than other groups.

They’re also more likely than the rest of the population to upgrade their phones or buy new ones on a regular basis. They spend the most on their phone bills.

Whatever their age or digital lifestyle, most Americans desire to reduce their monthly phone bill. Legal phone unlocking gives them some options that were unavailable just a few months ago. This includes opting to patronize a low-cost “bring your own device” (BYOD) wireless carrier.

Now consumers can buy an unlocked phone outright from a company like, or unlock their current device and use it with a no-contract carrier’s service. But even then, there are three major technical matters to address.

1. Consumers must pay for their device in full before they unlock it

You have to complete a contract fulfillment or pay the balance on an installment plan. People are not allowed to get a discounted phone through a contract and then cancel the contract to unlock their phone and switch carriers.

2. Not all cell phones work on all wireless networks

Some networks use Code Division Multiple Access (CDMA) standards, while others use Global Systems for Mobiles (GSM). These acronyms represent a shorthand description of the radio systems used in cell phone technology, and there are key differences the networks. A December 2013 post in PC Magazine explains these differences.

3. Unlocking a cell phone is challenging and can take several days to accomplish

Most people who unlock their phones are primarily doing it to change their wireless service, so their current carrier has no motivation to help them. Consumers must gather the right information to unlock their phones and hope that customer service is helpful.

It may be easier to pay a technology expert to unlock the phone. Once their phone is unlocked or they’ve purchased one outright, they can look for new carrier options.

Many prepaid and discount wireless services piggy-back off the four major carriers: AT&T, T-Mobile, Sprint, or Verizon. A little research goes a long way toward identifying a quality, affordable plan.

Comments are closed.