Things are about to get a lot easier for those looking for an unlocked iPhone or Android device to use on wireless carriers like AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile and Verizon. New restrictions going into effect today mean that anyone can turn their iPhone into an unlocked iPhone without jumping through the hoops that were previously required.
This morning the Cellular Telephone Industries Association, or CTIA, rolled out new guidelines that require its members to unlock the iPhone and other smartphones. Starting today, AT&T, Verizon and others are required by the new CTIA code to let users unlock their devices once they’ve fulfilled the conditions of their contract. In short that means, that users will get to unlock their device for use on another wireless carrier once they’ve fulfilled their two-year contract or paid off their monthly payments in the case of T-Mobile. To be clear only companies who’ve volunteered to comply with the CTIA code are required to implement these rules.
The new CTIA code also brings good news for those who prefer to buy their iPhone or other smartphone prepaid. Buyers will have to wait a year, but even a prepaid iPhone will be able to morph into an unlocked iPhone.
Wireless companies have used a few different tactics to keep users on their networks for years. None of them have been more efficient and effective than locking smartphones. All four of the major wireless companies in the United States include a software lock on devices they sell that prevent users from making calls and consuming data using SIM cards from other carriers. AT&T in particular is notorious for not unlocking its branded smartphones, even if the user has paid for their smartphone in full. The situation was even worse for users who purchased an AT&T phone in full and didn’t already have an account with them. Unlocking a device in that situation was almost impossible for free.
AT&T now has a new web portal that allows users to unlock their iPhones or any other smartphone without contacting their call centers. Unlocking a smartphone on AT&T is now free as long as the device isn’t reported stolen, isn’t “associated” with fraudulent activity, paid off and not already active on another AT&T account. T-Mobile and Sprint have updated their offerings to adhere to the new rules governing members of the CTIA. T-Mobile’s requirements matches the others, but also requires that users have their wireless bill paid in full before they request an unlock code.
Members of the CTIA have agreed to notify users when their device is eligible to unlock if they have a contract. If the smartphone is prepaid they’ll be informed of their year-long wait at the time of purchase.
The change in rules making it easier to transformer every iPhone into an unlocked iPhone were among other new rules. Members of the organization are now required to point out what carrier chargers and taxes users are also being billed for. One of the other promising policy changes is to contract changes. Before today, it seems that members of the CTIA weren’t necessarily required to let users out of their contract for big changes made to their policy by wireless carrier themselves. Going forward, they’ll be required to provide a way out for big switches in terms. Trials for wireless service and more accurate coverage maps are also part of the code changes.
All told, lives of wireless users in the United States just improved by a great deal. The changes are great for everyone, but their especially good for users who purchase unlocked devices from companies like Expansys or have fulfilled their end of their contract and wish to try other services without upgrading their smartphone.
To be clear, everyone shouldn’t rejoice in the streets just yet. Most carriers in the United States have smartphones that are tailored for their specific network. It may be easier to unlock an smartphone that’s been paid off now, but that’s no guarantee that using your smartphone on a different carrier won’t come with issues. Differences in wireless networks could leave you without 4G LTE in the case of AT&T and T-Mobile users. Smartphones on Sprint and Verizon aren’t necessarily compatible with AT&T and T-Mobile’s networks too.