What is is an "Unlocked" phone?

enzo thecat

macrumors 6502
Original poster
Apr 7, 2010
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Midwest USA
And how or who can unlock it? I though it meant a phone that wasnt tied to a contract, but from what I see on here, it must be much more than that.

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myscrnnm

macrumors 65816
Sep 16, 2014
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To put it simply, a locked phone has carrier restrictions, which are imposed by means of software locks installed by a particular cell phone carrier (eg. AT&T). This means you can only use it on their network, using their SIM cards (or certain international carriers that they have agreements with if you pay for international voice and/or data services).

An unlocked phone is free from any carrier restrictions, and will accept virtually any SIM card, given that the phone has the sufficient hardware capabilities (network protocols and frequencies) to work on said carrier. Most phones in the world sold at full price are factory unlocked, and you will never have to worry about swapping out a compatible SIM card.

In countries where subsidized cell phones are common, many phones come locked. But under certain conditions, the carrier that sold the phone to you can unlock the phone on request. This is where your question about contracts comes into play. On networks such as AT&T, subsidized phones come locked, and can be unlocked after your contract period has ended. Under most circumstances, once a previously locked phone has been unlocked, it will stay that way for perpetuity,
 

markp-a

macrumors member
Sep 18, 2014
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So who do you pay for minutes and data on an unlocked phone? And they work worldwide
 

myscrnnm

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Sep 16, 2014
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So who do you pay for minutes and data on an unlocked phone? And they work worldwide
You pay whatever company provided you the SIM card that you put in it. Say you have an AT&T SIM card in an unlocked phone and you're in America: you pay AT&T for service. If you go to Canada, and use that same card, you continue to pay AT&T, and Rogers will provide you with service because they have an agreement with AT&T. But now that you have an unlocked phone, you can take out that AT&T SIM card and put in one of Rogers' own, and pay Rogers directly, which will in most cases be cheaper than the international rates that AT&T charges.

Part of SIM locking under contract is to force the user to pay for those expensive extra features.

In response to the question about worldwide function; that still depends on the hardware in your phone. Many countries use different frequencies, although most use GSM (as opposed to CDMA). But yes, an unlocked phone makes international use easier/more economical, as you can use a SIM card from a local carrier, which will let you pay the same rate as people from that country.

In the past, cell phone manufacturers would make different versions of their phones for countries that used different bands on the GSM spectrum (or CDMA for that matter, as well as separate GSM and CDMA versions of the same phone. This has become less common as manufacturers simply incorporate both radios and enable more bands, simplifying logistics and reducing SKUs.
 
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ttmrn

macrumors regular
Oct 6, 2014
141
4
tx
An unlocked phone would only be feasible if u travel out of the states, and would prefer not to use AT&T global roaming. (if it's locked to AT&T)

otherwise, if the subsidy u get from a locked phone is a good deal - just get that and request it to be unlocked after ur contract ends.
 

enzo thecat

macrumors 6502
Original poster
Apr 7, 2010
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Midwest USA
So if I just paid full price for my Verizon 6 Plus, then I can take it into Verizon and request it become "unlocked" If so, what are the chances the associate will know what I'm talking about?
 

myscrnnm

macrumors 65816
Sep 16, 2014
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Seattle, WA
So if I just paid full price for my Verizon 6 Plus, then I can take it into Verizon and request it become "unlocked" If so, what are the chances the associate will know what I'm talking about?
If they work in a Verizon store, they should know you mean. If they don't, they really shouldn't be working there (not even joking).

Are you sure however that your Verizon iPhone 6 Plus is carrier locked? I thought they all came unlocked.
 

eyoungren

macrumors Core
Aug 31, 2011
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If they work in a Verizon store, they should know you mean. If they don't, they really shouldn't be working there (not even joking).

Are you sure however that your Verizon iPhone 6 Plus is carrier locked? I thought they all came unlocked.
They do. All Verizon phones that are capable of 4G/LTE come unlocked period. Whether you pay full price or not, are in a contract or not, the come unlocked out of the box.

That is because the FCC has an agreement with Verizon. Verizon must unlock all LTE capable phones in order to use the LTE frequency that they use.

If you're in contract though with Verizon, the one thing stopping you from leaving is going to be ETF.
 

vi2867

macrumors 6502
Oct 11, 2006
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Eastvale, CA
An unlocked phone is not connect with a carrier. You simply can put a sim card in it and will work with that carrier. Obviously the phone needs to be compatible with that carrier. The iPhone is made to work on most carriers.

If the phone is locked you need to have the carrier give you a code to unlock it. They will usually do this if you are not under a binding contract.