What is an unlocked Cell Phone?
-An unlocked cell phone is a cell phone that can work on the GSM calling network. The GSM (Global System for Mobile Communications) is the primary cellular service network for Europe, Canada and many other parts of the world. However, if you have an American phone provider (non-GSM) there is a chance that your phone won’t be able to switch networks readily. Which is when you would need to purchase an unlocked cell phone, or attempt to unlock your own. An alternative to purchasing an unlocked phone or unlocking your own is to buy a quad band (850/900/1800/1900MHz) GSM phone. Which is a phone that can work on four different frequencies. Some brands with good coverage are Vodafone and Telestial.
Warning: If your phone is unlocked it won’t work with CDMA carriers, which include: Verizon, Boost Mobile, Sprint, Virgin Mobile etc. The phone HAS to be operating on a GSM carrier’s network.
Do I have an unlockable Cell Phone?
-If your cell phone comes from a T-Mobile, AT&T, or Cingular provider than it IS possible that your phone can be unlocked to receive service on a GSM network. You would need to figure out your model number and then do a swift Google search (or take it in to a rep) to find out more.
If you’re trying to figure out what the model number is. It’s generally located under the battery in the back of your phone.
How to unlock the Cell Phone
-If you have an unlockable cell phone then it’s easiest to take it to a branch (whether AT&T, Cingular, or T-Mobile) and ask a rep to unlock it for you. Sometimes there is a charge, other times it just has to be a phone number that isn’t associated with an inactive account or an account with a lot of over charges. However, each carrier has its own way of ensuring that your account meets certain ‘requirements’ before they’ll unlock your phone for you. Sometimes unlocking a cell phone can also be a violation of the ‘Terms of Service’ outlined in your contract, which a rep should be able to go over with you. I unlocked my Blackberry Curve at a MegaMobile for 30$, it took less than five minutes. The representative should check that the phone is unlocked by ensuring that the phone reads a SIM card from a different carrier.
Can I unlock it myself?
You CAN unlock your phone on your own (it’s a bit trickier and can be difficult if your SIM card is already de-activated. It’s technically considered illegal, so there is that). There are many YouTube videos available and accompanying websites to walk you through it if that’s the route you want to take. This generally involves a specific code and sequence of key entries onto your keyboard, some of these services want payment in order to provide you with this information- so be careful. You could run the risk of paying money to a website for an access code that never arrives in your inbox.
Why it makes your life easier
Having an unlocked phone makes your life easier because you won’t need to keep switching phones when abroad or worry about not having any service for months (which can be nightmare for your family). Depending on how you choose to go about purchasing SIM cards your phone number may change.
It’s also in your best interest to purchase the phone (whether multi-band GSM or an unlocked cell phone) PRIOR to your trip. This way you are familiar with some of the ins and outs of the phone, and have all of your numbers already programmed into the phone.