If you are looking to buy a new phone, or even a used one, then you may have come across phones labeled as locked or unlocked. Locked phones are those that are "locked" to specific carrier networks like AT&T or Verizon. Unlocked phones are not "locked" to a specific carrier. For some people, there is no difference between an unlocked phone and a locked one. But if you've ever wondered what does unlocking a phone do, then continue reading below to get yourself familiarized.
Most people are not familiar with what a bootloader is. It is a program in your phone which loads the operating system when the device is turned on.
As its name suggests, it boots the system and loads programs and applications so they are ready to be used. The bootloader found in smartphones are factory locked. This is to protect the operating system from vulnerabilities which can lead to security issues.
Aside from security & system integrity issues, unlocking the bootloader can also effect your warranty due to changes in the software of the phone. If you are buying your phone with plans of customizing the software, then choose a phone with an unlockable bootloader. Ask first from the cellphone provider if the bootloader is unlockable. There is no definite method on unlocking a bootloader but there are several how to videos on YouTube.
Sim Locked Phones
Aside from locked bootloaders, there are SIM locked phones which is what's most commonly referred to when saying the phone is locked. This means that you cannot use any other SIM carriers other than the carrier it was originally for.
The phone will not work with another carrier’s SIM inserted. SIM locks has nothing to do with a locked bootloaders. Unlike locked bootloaders, SIM locked phones are easier to unlock.
You can first try to call the carrier of the phone and ask for them to unlock the phone. However, do not expect the carrier networks to make this an easy process. Usually, they sell phones with a predefined locked period. This means that they will not unlock any phone that falls within this predetermined period.
Second, you can go to a local cell phone repair shop to see if they offer a SIM unlocking service. At our local store in Austin we can unlock your iPhone along with most Android smartphone. The process can take up to 10 business days but once completed, it will be unlocked forever to be used on any GSM network.
Third, you can try to unlock your phone online. There are many websites that offer their unlocking services. You will have to provide some information from the phone you want to unlock and pay a fee. Everything is done remotely and it can be difficult to get support if you need help with the process.
Be careful when using an online unlocking service, some of them can be a scam to get your personal details. Check out different websites first, check their online reviews and try to contact them by phone to prove their legitimacy.
Nowadays, the carrier networks also provide cell phones that are already unlocked. This makes things easier for people who want the ability to switch carriers or travel overseas and use the same phone. Having an unlocked phone gives you the flexibility so that no matter how much you change your carrier, you do not need to buy a new phone.
Locked vs. Unlocked Phones
In the below sections, we will talk about the differences between a SIM locked and unlocked phones. We briefly touched on these two kinds of phones above but in the below sections, we will dive more into the differences between the two. So, what does unlocking phone do?
Locked phones are typically sold by the carrier networks. The lock is not a hardware lock but is actually a software lock put in pace by the manufacturer at the requirement of the carrier network selling the device. The lock is there to ensure that the carrier of the phone will only work on their network. If another network's SIM card is inserted the device will not register and prompt for the unlock code.
It is important to not that not all phones are unlocked using an unlock code. For example, iPhone's are unlocked through software downloaded from iTunes.
An unlocked phone is usually the preferred choice because it does not tie you down to a specific carrier. Also, there typically are no contracts to sign since getting an unlocked phone means paying full retail price upfront.
Additionally, there may be more models to choose from since there are certain models not offered by carriers. An unlock phone is also less hassle for the person who travels internationally. While traveling with an unlocked phone you can easily switch from local carrier networks to international SIM cards. Also, unlocked phones can be resold at a higher price compares to locked phones.
Benefits Of Having An Unlocked Phone
In conclusion, having an unlocked phone has its pros which clearly outweigh the cons. To summarize, here are a few of those reasons.
More savings: Let’s face it, locked phones are more expensive than unlocked ones. Additionally, they have costly fees when it comes to getting it unlocked or carrier termination fees if you want to switch carriers. If you find yourself dissatisfied with your current carrier, then it is fairly easy and much cheaper to switch to another one with an unlocked phone.
A good traveling companion: Because you can swap SIMs without the hassle, an unlocked phone is the best companion when traveling. You can use international SIM cards or the local ones in the country you are in.
Faster performance and updates: Locked phones often have an additional software which manufacturers use to lock the device. In unlocked phones, this software is nonexistent. Therefore, there is more space in the device for you to use and it's not bogged down by bloatware. For other phones like those run by Android, software updates come faster with unlocked phones.