Reminder: Free Your Phone! – American Carrier Unlock

Reminder: Free Your Phone! – American Carrier Unlock

We’ve been hearing about unlocking standard laws regarding American carriers and their branded smartphones for years, and it was in late 2013 when the CTIA officially pushed the development through. Something to note from that page is where it says “(…) the Code has a section on Mobile Wireless Device Unlocking, which includes voluntary standards to assist consumers by enhancing transparency and disclosure of wireless providers’ device unlocking policies” – that bit implies you shouldn’t necessarily expected these standards to make it to every carrier. But with these standards set in place, many of them have clearly defined conditions under which they must unlock your phones, tablets and other electronics that are tied to their network. If your device is paid off, you are eligible for unlocking, and the procedure’s details aren’t all that complicated.


First of all, in case you aren’t aware, CTIA defines the process as:

“Unlocking” a device refers only to disabling software that would prevent a consumer from attempting to activate a device designed for one carrier’s network on another carrier’s network, even if that network is technologically compatible.

Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile, Sprint and U.S. Cellular begin using these standards as of today, and post-paid devices are now unlockable as soon as they are paid off, or your contract ends. Prepaid phones and tablets, however, qualify no later than one year after activation. If you are in the military, you can have your phone unlocked immediately if you present deployment orders, which is a considerate thought for those that will need to be abroad to serve their country and shouldn’t have to buy a new phone for this task. If you are a current customer of your carrier, unlocking your device is free of charge, but if you are not a customer at the time there will be a reasonable fee for you to pay for the process.

Your devices can undergo two types of unlocking depending on your handset and when it was built: Master Subsidy Lock devices are those manufactured prior to February 2015, and they require a code from your carrier to change the lock status and get rid of the restrictions tying you to your carrier. Then there’s those that are capable of Domestic SIM Unlock which can also be done over-the-air through a carrier command that can be sent as soon as you are eligible, something Sprint will apparently do..

CTIA encourages carriers to enhance transparency and disclosure on unlocking procedures, so you will most likely receive notifications alerting you of your unlock status or if you are eligible for it. These policies should also be concisely stated on the carrier websites shortly, as the standards demand. As for the procedure time, CTIA standards speak of two business days after request and provide an explanation as to why your device can’t be unlocked in case they do not meet the deadline for whatever reason.

There are still details to be known, but keep in mind that there are restrictions to illegally acquired or flagged devices, and both postpaid and prepaid devices must be fully paid off before you can do the procedure. Your payment status should also be in good standing with your carrier if you want a seamless procedure. As a final reminder, not all hardware supports all frequencies and you should look whether your current device is capable of accessing your next carrier’s network properly.

Keep these things in mind for when the time comes. This news is good to everyone, given that purchasing carrier phones can sometimes be a great deal, but the fact that you are locked to your network limits your freedom and your choice. Luckily after years of fighting, consumers are getting the right they’ve always deserved and always could have had, but were promptly denied thoroughly. It’s time to get rid of your carrier’s shackles and enjoy your phone to the fullest!

About author

Mario Tomás Serrafero
Mario Tomás Serrafero

Mario developed his love for technology in Argentina, where a flagship smartphone costs a few months of salary. Forced to maximize whatever device he could get, he came to know and love XDA. Quantifying smartphone metrics and creating benchmarks are his favorite hobbies. Mario holds a Bachelor's in Mathematics and currently spends most of his time classifying cat and dog pictures as a Data Science graduate student.

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