New Phone Unlocking Rules: What You Need to Know
For the past two years or so, it has been illegal to unlock your smartphone or tablet. But now, carriers’ holds on mobile devices have been loosened considerably by several pieces of legislation. Starting yesterday, (February 11) new phone unlocking rules have been implemented that state no carrier can refuse an unlock request once the two-year contract is finished. The FCC and major carriers have all put together their own FAQs about this new policy, but here is a quick summary of what you need to know.
How Did This All Start?
In 2013, a wireless trade group (the CTIA) proposed a list of new voluntary standards for wireless carriers to abide by. One of the standards specifically stated that users should have the right to have a device unlocked.
Which Carriers Are Participating?
Major carriers such as Sprint, AT&T, T-Mobile, U.S. Cellular, and Verizon Wireless have all adopted the new standards. You can now call your carrier, tell them you want your device unlocked, and they’ll do it.
You can then take your device to any carrier you want and sign up for a new service. You can also simply change out the SIM when you are visiting a foreign country, and as long as your phone is compatible with their network, it will work.
How Do I Unlock My Device?
The first thing you need to do is make sure the device is completely paid for, and you are in good standing with the carrier. If your phone is still being paid for, or you are behind on your bill, they don’t have to unlock it for you.
Depending on your carrier, you may get a notification through a text message or your monthly bill when your device is eligible for unlocking.
If you are a customer of the carrier you’re contacting, they will unlock your device for free. However, if you are a former customer, you’ll likely have to pay a small fee. So whenever possible, get your device unlocked before you cancel your service.
Military personnel can have their phone unlocked for free whether they are existing customers or not, as long as they have proof of deployment orders.
Below is a list of links to all carriers FAQ pages regarding unlocking devices:
What About Pre-Paid Customers?
Many pre-paid companies such as Verizon Prepaid, MetroPCS, Virgin Mobile, Sprint Prepaid, Boost Mobile, AT&T Go Phone and T-Mobile Prepaid are required by law to participate in this unlocking initiative. Typically, their prepaid phones are sold unlocked, but those that aren’t are eligible for unlocking a year after purchase as long as you have had an active account during that time.
Why Unlock a Device?
There are many benefits to unlocking your device. Not only will you be able to change carriers whenever you want to, you will also be able to buy a prepaid international SIM card if you travel. You could even switch from a post-paid to a pre-paid service if you need to.
Just remember that some phones and tablets won’t be compatible with certain bands and carriers. For example, a Verizon exclusive device may not be compatible with the LTE network used by Sprint.
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