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How To Unlock a Cell Phone

People decide to change phone carriers for a number of reasons. Reasons can include plan pricing or phone coverage being better with one company over another. No matter the reason for a switch, though, having to get a new phone isn’t always desired. This is where unlocking your phone comes into play.

If you’re looking to unlock your smartphone to use with another carrier, you’re in luck. Instructions on how to unlock your phone can be obtained from your carrier directly in most instances. If you’re not with a specific carrier but are still looking to unlock a phone locked to that service, be sure to look into the company’s terms and conditions, as you will likely need to pay a fee.

In this article, we’ll give you information on unlocking your devices. Not only will you learn whether your device can be unlocked or not, but we will give you the information you need in order to unlock your device.

How to unlock your cell phone for use with another carrier:

In order to understand how unlocking a phone works, you need to know a little about the various network technology used by phone carriers. Two of the different technologies are GSM and CDMA, and they tend to be the most commonly used. To put it simply, GSM and CDMA are like two different radio frequencies. They both accomplish the same task, which for your phone means providing cell and data usage, but they have different content. Because of their differences, phones using one technology might not be able to work on a network using the other.

AT&T uses GSM, so consumers looking to unlock their AT&T phone would have no trouble at all switching over to, say, T-Mobile, because both networks are on the same GSM technology. In this example, were you to switch to T-Mobile all you would have to do once your phone has been unlocked is simply switch your SIM card to T-Mobile’s and you would be good to go. In addition, since both companies utilize the same Band 4 LTE, most 4G phones or tablets would be able to access either network with ease.

Verizon, however, doesn’t use GSM like AT&T or T-Mobile. Instead, they use CDMA standard. That doesn’t necessarily mean it’s impossible to use a 4G LTE device from AT&T with Verizon. Even though they might be using different network technology, it’s possible they could still be running on the same spectrum. This is only the case with LTE data, however. As far as data, texting, or making calls is concerned, you likely wouldn’t be able to use these functions on Verizon’s 3G network.

Sprint, one of the other major phone providers, uses CDMA as well. Unlike Verizon, though, their network is on a completely different spectrum band than the other phone carriers. It may be possible to transfer certain AT&T devices to their plans, but you would need to contact Sprint first.

If AT&T’s coverage is working well for you, and it’s just the price that you’re looking to change, you can take an unlocked phone to an MVNO for one of the other carriers. An MVNO is a service provider that has agreements with companies like AT&T. While they aren’t a part of the company, they are able to offer services on AT&T and other company’s networks, but at prices they set.

Steps to Take Before Unlocking Your Phone

Before you get started, make sure that the device you’re looking to unlock hasn’t been reported stolen or lost. You’re also going to want to ensure that it hasn’t been associated with any other fraudulent activity. Otherwise, you’re going to run into problems.

If your device is on a subsidized plan, it will need to be paid off. Your account will also need to be in good standing, meaning no past-due balances. If you owe money on the device’s service plan, then unlocking it will be impossible.

Similarly, if you’re paying installments on the device through an early upgrade plan, you have to make sure that it’s completely paid off before proceeding. If there are any payments due on the device, you won’t be able to unlock it.

It will need to be 14 days after upgrading to a new phone before you will be allowed to unlock your old phone.

If you are on a postpaid plan, check to make sure that you’re both in good standing and that you have been for 60 or more days. Or, if you have a prepaid or similar device, it will have to have been active for six months.

What You Need When Requesting an Unlock

There are a few ways you can go about requesting an unlock. One is, of course, on the carrier website. Another is with your online account. It’s important to know that you’re going to need specific information ready when you apply to unlock, which is going to be listed below.

Before all of that, though, go to your carrier's site. On the site, there will be a “Device Unlock Request Form.” You’ll need to fill this out, which you can do both on the site or through your account. You should get a confirmation email once the form is submitted, and within a few business days, you can expect another email with unlocking instructions.

Now, let’s take a look at the information you’re going to need to have on hand. First, is both the account holder’s name, the account number, and the phone number for the device. The carrier is going to want to verify you’re authorized to unlock the device, which is why having this information is vital.

You’re also going to need the MEID or IMEI for your device. This isn’t information that you’re going to have to dig through your paperwork for, as it should be under the battery cover or on the back of the device. If, when you look in these places, you still aren’t able to locate the MEID or IMEI, don’t worry. You can dial #06# on the device, which will bring the number up on the screen.

Lastly, in the event you’re unlocking this device for military deployment, make sure that you have your deployment papers handy so you can provide the information needed from them.

If You Aren’t a Customer of a Carrier

Not everyone gets a phone locked to a carrier by being their customer. People purchase phones from friends, online, or may get hand-me-down phones from relatives. If you have a device you want to unlock but aren’t actually a customer of that carrier, you can definitely still request the phone be unlocked. You just need to be sure the device hasn’t been reported lost or stolen.

If you’re an active member of the military, it’s also possible to get your device unlocked. You’ll just need to provide proof of your deployment. Keep in mind that the carrier may have limits on how many unlocks are possible per account holder. If you’re worried, you can always contact them to check.

Unlocking a phone can seem intimidating, but it’s a fairly straightforward process. You just need to ensure you have all the necessary information on hand. If you still have questions or concerns, customer support is always available to help you through the process.