What You Need to Know About the Phone Unlocking Rules

BY GreenBot Staff

Published 11 Feb 2015

Rejoice! February 11, 2015, brought a new beginning for your smartphone or tablet. You would no longer be tied by the shackles of your wireless carrier’s rules. Carriers would be required to honor your unlock request. So that you can take your phone to whatever other carrier you damn well please. The carriers and the FCC have all offered up their own informative FAQ on the matter. But if you’d rather not trudge through it. Here’s a quick rundown on everything you need to know about unlocking your device.

What are You Talking About?

In 2013, the CTIA, a wireless trade group, set forth a list of new voluntary standards for carriers to abide by. One of those standards specifically called out the right for users to have an unlocked device:


The wireless provider will abide by the following standards regarding customers’ abilities. Former customers and individual owners of eligible devices unlock phones, tablets, and mobile wireless devices that are locked by or at the direction of the carrier.

Who is Participating?

AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, Verizon Wireless, and U.S. Cellular will adopt the new standards on February 11, 2015. From then on, you’ll be able to call your carrier and say, Hey! I want to unlock my phone! And they’ll comply.

Then you can take your phone, sign up for service on any other carrier. Or pop in a SIM when visiting another country. It’ll work as long as your phone is compatible with the network.

How Do I Unlock My Phone?

It’s easy, but before you call your carrier. You should ensure that your device is paid in full. So that you’re in good financial stead before you call customer service to unlock it. If your carrier still subsidizes your phone, or you need to catch up on your bill, they can unlock it. Your carrier may also alert you when you’re eligible for unlocking through your monthly bill or a text message. The method varies.
If you’re already a customer of the carrier you’re contacting, you won’t have to pay a thing. But if you’re a former customer, you’ll probably have to pay a minor fee. So get your phone unlocked before you cancel the service! Military personnel can have their phones unlocked for free as long as they have proof of deployment orders. Regardless of whether they’re a customer. Here are handy links to all the carriers’ FAQ pages on unlocking your device:

What if I’m a Pre Paid Customer?

MetroS, Verizon Prepaid, Virgin Mobile, Boost Mobile, Sprint Prepaid, T-Mobile Prepaid, and AT&T’s Go are all required by law to participate in this massive unlocking initiative. Their prepaid phones are sold unlocked. But are otherwise eligible for unlocking a year after the device was purchased, provided, You had an active account. The law states that requirements must be reasonable and fits within those parameters.

Why Should I Unlock My Phone?

The better question is, why wouldn’t you unlock your phone? Gartner Principal Research Analyst, Bill Menezes, agrees that there’s no good reason not to. Not only does it increase your flexibility in changing carriers. But it also allows you to more easily do things like buy a prepaid international SIM, when you’re traveling abroad. Or even switch from a postpaid to a prepaid service if that works better for you.

Remember that your phone or tablet may be incompatible with particular brand carrier-specific features. Thus you may not be able to take your device to a particular network. For instance, a Verizon-exclusive phone like the Motorola Droid Turbo is incompatible with Sprint’s E-network. Like, T-Mobile’s Wi-Fi calling capabilities are built into the system of certain handsets. You purchase directly from T-Mobile. To take advantage of that feature, you’ll want to stick with a T-Mobile-sold device.

In short, please Take advantage of the opportunity to unlock your device. But do your research before taking it to another carrier or country. You’ll save yourself a ton of headaches, and in the end, you’ll take full advantage of your device’s newfound freedom.