One thing you may have come across while researching mobile phones is the debate on locked versus unlocked devices. Many of these discussions are between people who are experts in technology or who have spent many hours learning about mobile devices and how they work, so the conversation may get quite technical. If you’re wondering what the difference is between an unlocked and a standard device, and why you might want to purchase a mobile phone that has been unlocked, the following information may help.
Unlocked or Locked
When you purchase a mobile phone from a carrier or from a retailer, that device is generally locked to the carrier. It doesn’t matter if you purchase the mobile device outright or if you’re paying it out on a contract, the carrier will have locked the mobile phone. What this means is that you cannot use that mobile phone on any other wireless service provider. If you try to switch carriers, you won’t be able to use that specific locked mobile phone until the lock status has been changed. Some mobile phones do come unlocked, but unless you see it expressly stated on the packaging or in the manual, you should assume it is locked.
How are Locks Enforced?
These locks are, of course, not actual physical locks or any other piece of equipment. Instead, they are special codes programmed into the mobile phone that do not allow it to connect to another carrier’s network. In order to change carriers, the actual software has to be changed.
Carriers do this because they normally sell mobile phones for much less than retail, especially when you buy a phone on a contract. Your monthly payment for the phone usually adds up to significantly less than what you would have paid had you purchased the phone outright because they know they will make up the difference in service charges over the length of the contract. By locking your mobile phone to its network, the carrier is ensuring that it will make back the money lost from the device purchase with the prolonged service charges. With unlocked mobile phones, you’re free to leave that carrier by paying whatever contract termination fee is involved.
GSM Verses CDMA
Generally, locked mobile phones are those that use a GSM network. This is the main standard for wireless devices that is used by most of the carriers around the world, although some older mobile phones in Australia used CDMA. Mobile phones that use GSM must have a special small card called a SIM card installed in them. Changing your carrier means changing the SIM card within the phone in order to move the lock from the old carrier to the new carrier.
A CDMA mobile device does not have a SIM card. Instead, those devices must be switched over by the original carrier, which can make the process somewhat more difficult. It’s also important to note that CDMA devices cannot be used on GSM networks.
In some cases, a carrier may unlock your mobile phone if you have complete paid it off and are ending your contract, but that may not always be the case.