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Lots of new phones, and lots of carriers, lock you into a specific plan and a specific phone for a long-term contract.This presents many hassles, ranging from roaming fees, to a lack of features (such as a camera) that you want. Thankfully, unlocked phones allow users to optimize their mobile usage and save money, since these mobile phones can be used on any GSM (Global System for Mobile Communications) network with interchangeable SIM (Subscriber Identification Module) cards. Here is what to know about unlocked phones and the benefits they provide.

Unlocked iPhone image by Dylan Parker

How They Work

Locked phones are those with SIM cards modifiable only by the service provider. With an unlocked phone, users may simply remove the SIM card and place it into another unlocked phone. Or they can add a new SIM card (such as a prepaid one) into their existing phone. When transferring SIM cards between phones, the phone service that’s associated with that SIM card stays with it. You’ll still receive all calls to your number associated with that SIM card, and you’ll have the same Wi-Fi capabilities — all that has changed is the phone itself.

While some companies may offer to unlock a phone after a user has fulfilled part of the contract (often at a high fee), the Nexus 4 on T-Mobile is one of a handful of phones that can be purchased new in the U.S. unlocked. According to The Globe and Mail, carriers like Virgin Mobile charge customers $75 or more to unlock a phone. Unlocking a phone isn’t a golden ticket, though. You must still satisfy “the other caveats and obligations of your contract.” Most mobile phone carriers subsidize the cost of your phone. Purchasing a cell phone that is already unlocked saves time and money and guarantees the phone may be modified whenever desired.

Why Unlocked Phones Are Beneficial

There are many reasons besides travel and new technology features that unlocked phones provide. Their unrestricted regulations allow phone users to try out different carriers with prepaid plans instead of being locked into contracts. People may want to change because of everything from customer service to the model of the phone they have. If you move, a new SIM card may instantly give you a local number, making it easier for locals to contact you. And since traditional phone contracts may last up to several years, an unlocked phone gives peace of mind because of the flexibility and freedom it offers.

Considerations to Keep in Mind

If your current phone is locked, it may be illegal to unlock it. If the phone is “carrier-subsidized” says, unlocking it “before the contract associated with it runs out” can have you “running afoul of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.” (4) While that’s not great news for those currently in contracts, it’s important information to remember when making a new phone purchase.


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Author: Andy Quayle

Andy was born in the Isle of Man and currently lives in Pittsburgh.
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