Unlocked Phones Legal, Once Again

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Written By:

Updated October 27, 2022

That’s right, unlocked phones are legal, again. You might be asking yourself why this was illegal in the first place or may even be wondering what it means to unlock a cell phone. In this article, we will focus on the reasons why such a law exists and how you can fully unlock your device if it isn’t already. And speaking of the law, have a look at the Texas right to repair bill that affects the construction industry. Moreover, you might be interested in learning more about the right-to-repair law.

KEY TAKEAWAYS:

  • Unlocking your phone allows you to continue using the same device with any carrier of your choice.
  • Locks on phones were in place to prevent you from switching to a competitor.
  • Unlocking your phone is as simple as asking the carrier to unlock it as long as you meet certain requirements.

Why Carriers Place a Lock On Phones

Chances are, unless you outright paid for your phone when you purchased it, you most likely signed a contract and paid it off in monthly installments along with your actual phone bill. This is how a majority of phones are purchased, as it allows the consumer to have a device without paying the full cost upfront. Plans are usually incentivized by offering a discounted price for the device as long as you don’t break the terms of service.

In an attempt to secure these sales for the foreseeable future, large carriers locked down the phones so they would function as intended only through their specific service. If you wanted to switch to a different carrier, it wasn’t as simple as just canceling the plan and calling Verizon, Sprint, AT&T, T-Mobile, etc.

Likewise, there were also fines and penalties against repairing a smartphone, especially if you used a smartphone repair kit, as carriers would prefer you use their repair services or purchase a brand-new phone. This would not only cost more, but lock you deeper into their lengthy (and typically expensive) contracts.

Additionally, if your phone suddenly stopped working after a few years (just as the newest model was released), there’s a chance the device was created with Planned Obsolescence in mind. Congress often has folks who lobby for terrible practices like Planned Obsolescence, as it adds to those companies’ bottom line, but lately, many laws have been erected to protect the consumer.

Insider Tip

Plans are usually incentivized by offering a discounted price for the device as long as you don’t break the terms of service.

With a locked phone, in order to switch carriers, you were forced to buy a completely new phone. Say you bought a used iPhone online, unbeknownst to you, that phone could be tied to AT&T, and if you planned on using Verizon, you would not be able to use it for its intended purpose.

What Does It Mean To Unlock a Device

Once a phone is unlocked, the user is able to use any carrier of their choice. Say, for instance, you plan to move to a different state, and the current service for your carrier has poor coverage in that area. With an unlocked phone, it’s possible to take that exact phone and sign up with a different carrier that will provide you with the required service.

How To Unlock a Device

While now legal, certain criteria still need to be met before unlocking a device. Each carrier has its own specific requirements, some more stringent than others. The most basic of which require the devices to be paid off in full and cannot be reported missing or stolen. Others require an active contract for a certain period of time but afterward allow the user to do as they please. It may not be a long period of time since these are not necessarily durable goods, but even that short duration may inconvenience you.

The process of unlocking is fairly straightforward, the most important part is figuring out if the phone is locked in the first place and, second, which carrier it is locked to. Once this information is known, you can call whichever carrier or bring it into one of their retail locations to have it unlocked.

Insider Tip

In an attempt to secure these sales for the foreseeable future, large carriers locked down the phones so they would function as intended only through their specific service.

F.A.Q.S

If my phone is locked can I still use it if I don’t have a carrier plan?

The device will still function but must be bound through a WI-FI connection that will allow you to surf the web and utilize messenger apps to communicate.


Is it worth the price to buy an unlocked phone?

Devices that are sold as unlocked units tend to sell for more than your typical contract phone. This is because unlocked phones are more versatile and aren’t subject to expensive yearly contracts. When it comes to resale, these unlocked devices are more popular amongst buyers and are seen as more valuable.


Is this in any way related to jailbreaking a phone?

Unlocking a phone is in no way related to the process of jailbreaking, and the two should not be confused. The process of jailbreaking involves altering the software on the device and allows the user to access and change parameters beyond what was intended by the manufacturer.



STAT: According to OSIPTEL Peru’s telecom regulator, article 23 of the Terms of use, mobile carriers can sell phones locked for a lower price for 12, 18 or 24-month contracts, but also must sell unlocked devices for the full price.

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