How Do I Unlock My Cell Phone or Smartphone?

Unlocking a smartphone is more complex than just pushing a button

Midsection Of Man Using Mobile Phone
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Unlocking a smartphone means disassociating the device from your carrier so you can use the same device with a different carrier.

Many smartphones — especially devices offered from the carrier, with a subsidy — are locked, meaning that the phone cannot be registered to a competing carrier's network. The carrier that subsidized the device retains a financial interest in not allowing the device to leave, at least until the service contract has expired, anyway.

Ways to Unlock a Phone

Different carriers offer different procedures, and even the same carrier's procedures differ based on the specific terms of your contract. In addition, the procedure can vary by device; some smartphones unlock with a software modification while others require a hardware tweak.

Your first step is always to speak with the Customer Support team of your current carrier to receive personalized guidance relative to your contract, device and subsidy agreement.

Don't assume that generic advice about a specific carrier will necessarily apply to your particular circumstances. The only authoritative "unlocking authority" is your own carrier's customer service department.

Other Considerations

Even if your carrier unlocks the device, it may not make sense for you to unlock your phone until your contract expires. You'll either be forced to pay a monthly fee for the remainder of your contract, or you'll have to pay a termination fee to break your contract. If your phone was subsidized, you might have to pay the balance of the subsidy to the carrier before they'll process the unlocking request.

In addition, you'll want to verify that the network that you wish to join will support your device. Smartphones support a variety of technologies, but most smartphones don't support all technologies. For example, an iPhone with a GSM radio won't work on a network using CDMA.