This guide explains what Phone Unlocking means and suggests the safest place to get it done. We hope it proves informative and useful.
What is phone unlocking?
Unlocking your phone simply means that you can use it on networks (also known as carriers or operators) other than your own. So for example, if you are currently locked into a contract with Vodafone UK, you could unlock your phone and make calls through Orange UK.
Every phone contains a small removable chip called a SIM card. The SIM card contains a unique number which links your phone to your network. The network then usually 'locks' your phone, meaning that no other SIM card will work in your phone. You might think there isn't much point in unlocking, but it can bring quite a few benefits.
So, what are the benefits of unlocking?
Once your phone is unlocked from your network, there are number of possibilities and benefits as follows:
Save money with other networks – You will be able to use other networks to make cheaper calls, send cheaper texts or use a cheaper data plan. You can simply insert another network's SIM card (either temporarily or permanently)
Travelling abroad / Roaming – Using other networks while abroad can save you on average 75% compared to the roaming rate charged by your network. Networks are well known for charging very high rates for calls or data while abroad. If your phone is unlocked you can buy cheap throwaway SIM cards from the country you're visiting. You can also keep your SIM, but connect to other (cheaper) networks that you wouldn't normally have access to
Multiple bands – Some phones, such as dual, tri or quad-band phones, are capable of using different networks while abroad, however your own network may be blocking access to this feature. By unlocking, you can use any network while you're away from home and they will often be cheaper than your own. For example if you take your locked Cingular phone to the United Kingdom it won't detect some UK networks. If your phone is unlocked however, these networks will be accessible
Increase the resale value – If you upgrade your phone and no longer need the old one, then you are free to sell it. Unlocked phones are worth up to 300% more than locked phones, meaning it's a great investment
Cheaper deals and tariffs – If your phone is unlocked and you see a promotional deal, or better tariff on another network, then you can put in another SIM card and use that. That's assuming you're not locked into a 12, 18 or 24 month contract, in which case you can still use the other network, but you will still have to pay for the original contract
Use other SIMs – This can sometimes be handy. For example, you may have run out of credit on your phone. You could use someone else's SIM card in your phone to make calls through their network. Or perhaps a friend may be having problems with their phone. You could put their SIM card in your phone to test if the problem is phone related or network related
Use dual SIM adapters – once unlocked, you can purchase a dual SIM adapter allowing you to switch between two networks on one phone
Unlock once only – once your phone is unlocked, you never need to do it again
Why do networks lock phones?
The only reason for phones to be locked is to ensure that you stay with your network for a certain period of time. If your phone is unlocked, you are less likely to leave and choose another provider.
Don't believe what your network representative tells you about your subsidised phone costing them a lot of money. They get significant discounts from phone manufacturers and make a very healthy profit from your monthly contract and call/text/data charges.
Maybe my phone is already unlocked. How do I check?
The quickest way to check if your phone is unlocked is to put someone else's SIM card in your phone (whether their phone is unlocked or not). If you can make calls with that SIM card, then you don't need to unlock your phone and you can probably stop reading!
What are the risks of unlocking?
Your network might not like you – If you ask your network's sales representative about unlocking, they may tell you that it's illegal (which is untrue), that you void your warranty (which is untrue if the unlocking is done properly) or that it can't be done (it can be, otherwise you wouldn't be reading this guide). These are often mis-truths that are told to protect their revenues.
There are, however, some risks to watch out for if unlocking isn't done properly:
A permanently locked phone – most phones will allow you to try unlocking three times. If you fail on the third attempt, your phone will be permanently locked to your network, with no chance of trying again
Loss of data – Some unreliable unlock codes work by exploiting the phone's software. This can sometimes mean losing all of your data like your contacts, messages, emails, apps and so on.
Warranty issues – If you don't unlock through a reputable company, you can void your warranty. This means that if you have any issues with your phone, neither your network nor your manufacturer will fix the problem
Bricked phone – In a lot of cases, especially using free codes off the internet, the unlock code can render your phone completely useless. This is more common that you might think, so be very careful
So, how do I unlock my phone properly?
We have done a fair bit of research to make this guide and the most reputable site around is currently Unlock-network.com. Their unique selling point is that they have a direct relationship with phone manufacturers which guarantees 1) the code will work and 2) you won't void your warranty
There are other lesser well-known companies that provide unlock codes, so feel free to have a hunt around, but be very careful as there are an equal number of scam websites. As with many things online, you can usually tell how trustworthy a site is by their design. If a site looks like it been thrown together in a couple of days, then don't go near it or you will risk damaging your phone.
Can't I do it myself?
Yes, you can if you can find a working unlock code. These can be found on the internet for free, but it can be a bit like finding a needle in a haystack and the risks are high that you could 'brick' your phone if you get the wrong code (as explained in the risks above).
How do I find these free codes?
To find free codes, start by typing in your phone's make and model into Google with the words "free phone unlocking code".
Be very careful though - a lot of unlocking sites come and go or they are of very poor quality. Most of them will promote free unlocking, but then eventually take you to some dodgy payment system. There is the odd genuinely helpful site, but unfortunately the scammers have taken over Google's search results pages, so you will really have to do some digging.
We would recommend the two sites above though to be on the safe side. Spending a few more dollars, pounds or euros is a small price to pay for not bricking your phone.
Do I need to download or install any software?
No software is necessary. You just need an unlocking code. Don't believe anyone or any website that says you need software to unlock your phone. The exception is to Jailbreak iPhones, but this is different to unlocking. See this page for more information on Jailbreaking.
Is unlocking legal?
Yes – it is totally legal. Phone companies may tell you that it isn't, but that is simply a sales tactic because they're afraid you might use your phone on a competitor's network. You may have also heard that the process isn't legal in the US, which was true until President Obama overturned this law in 2014. It is now legal again.
Are you sure?
Yes, however there is something similar called unblocking. That IS illegal. Unblocking is when you make a phone work after it has been blocked. Phones may be blocked if they have been stolen or lost. Unlocking and unblocking are two totally different things
Will unlocking void my warranty?
This depends on how you unlock the phone. If you use a trusted company like Unlock-network.com, then they will guarantee your warranty isn't voided
If you do it yourself, use a disreputable website or take it some small phone shop in town, then you may have warranty issues if you need to get your phone repaired in the future
Will I keep the same number?
Yes you will. Unlocking does not affect your phone number. Unless of course you put another SIM card in your phone, then the number will change while that SIM is in your phone.
Ok, what do I need before I unlock my phone?
You will need four pieces of information before you acquire your unlock code:
1) Your IMEI or ESN number
The number will be in the format: AA-BBBBBB-CCCCCC-D or AABBBBBBCCCCCCD
There are a number of ways to find this code. Start with the first (easiest):
- From your phone's dialing screen dial *#06# The number that appears will be your IMEI number
- If that doesn't work, look through your phone's menu for a "Help" or "About" screen and try and find the "IMEI number" or "IMEI code". For iPhone users, here is a useful guide to help you: http://support.apple.com/kb/HT1267
- The IMIE number may also be printed on the outside casing of your phone at the back
- If all of those fail, then the number should also be found on the 'compliance plate' which will usually be located under your battery or inside the battery compartment area. It usually looks like a white sticker with some numbers and codes. Look for a 15-digit number in the format above
2) Your handset make and model
For example: Blackberry Torch 9800
3) Your network / network
For example: Vodafone UK or Sprint US
The country that you live in (or more accurately, the country that your network is in)