Sprint gets generous, promises to unlock all device SIMs by February 2015

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Credit: Michael Homnick

US smartphone users are some of the unluckiest when it comes to device freedom. Not only do we have to deal with silly carrier politics, preloaded applications we never asked for, and delayed software updates, but we have check with out carrier before unlocking our devices to use somewhere else in the world or to move carriers.

Late last year, all five major carriers signed a pact that lets users devices unlock their devices and take them wherever they please. Sprint is the first of the big four to release concrete plans. The company subtly slipped its unlocking policy onto its legal page recently. It says that it will work on ensuring that "all devices developed and launched on or after February 11, 2015 are capable of being unlocked domestically." The entire unlocking policy states:

For eligible devices, Sprint will unlock the SIM slot, to the extent that a device SIM slot is capable of being unlocked. It is important to note that not all devices are capable of being unlocked, often because of the manufacturers' device designs, and that even for those devices capable of being unlocked, not all device functionality may be capable of being unlocked. Specifically, devices manufactured with a SIM slot within the past three years (including, but not limited to, all Apple iPhone devices), cannot be unlocked to accept a different domestic carrier's SIM for use on another domestic carrier's network. Sprint has no technological process available to do this. In accordance with Sprint's voluntary commitment contained within CTIA's Consumer Code for Wireless Service (“Unlocking Commitment”), Sprint is working to ensure that all devices developed and launched on or after February 11, 2015 are capable of being unlocked domestically.

This is certainly good news for Sprint customers, but since its phones contain CDMA radios it will likely introduce a caveat to some. Sprint cautions:

Whether an unlocked Sprint device can be used on another carrier’s network is subject to that carrier’s policies and network compatibilities. Even if a different carrier will activate a Sprint device on its network, Sprint does not make any guarantees as to a Sprint device’s performance on another carrier’s network or that any or all device features or functionalities will be fully or partially operational.

Perhaps the biggest setback of all is that Sprint is taking a year to making this change official. 

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