Unlocking Your Phone

Last Updated: 03-Mar-2003

Virtually all phones are sold with what is commonly called a Subsidy Lock or a Provider Lock. What this means is that the phone can only be used on the network who sold you the phone in the first place. Many people find this alarming news when they go to sign up with a competing service, but the reason for the locks is understandable. Most providers sell phones at below cost in order to attract you as a customer. The hit they take is known as a subsidy, and the last thing any provider wants to do is sell you a phone at their expense, just to have you use it on another network.

Normally there is no problem with this, but in the case GSM phones (especially "World Phones") there is another issue that goes beyond abandoning your current provider. When travelling to another country you are expected to "roam", which means keeping your current provider's SIM in the phone and paying roaming rates. However, most GSM operators offer fairly inexpensive pre-paid services, which travelers often like to take advantage of. However, if their phone is locked, it will reject any SIM that is not from their native provider.

While I do personally endorse the unlocking of phones for legitimate purposes, such as getting pre-paid SIMs when traveling abroad, I do not endorse it as a way to rip off a provider for a cheap phone that you have no intention of using with them. However, I can't dictate your morals, and I leave it up to you to decide if getting your phone unlocked is the right thing for you to do.

But how do you get your phone unlocked? There are basically two approaches to this. The first is to get your provider to give you the unlock code for your specific phone. The second is to have the phone unlocked electronically using special cables and software. The latter is obviously something that individuals, unrelated to the providers, can offer.

If you have virtually any GSM phone that you need unlocked, you might want to get in touch with the following individual:

Kevin Haffenden
Phone: 416-817-0808
EMail: kevin@bongowireless.com
Web Page: Bongo Wireless

Check his web page for a list of compatible phones and associated costs, or give him a call to discuss prices and terms. He can also let you know whether he can unlock your specific phone, but he assures me that there are few that he can't handle. Although I have no vested interest in this business venture, I do endorse his services for those who feel they would like to get their GSM phone unlocked.

Sorry, but I don't know of anyone who can unlock CDMA, iDEN, or TDMA (IS-136) phones, and even if they could, you will immediately run into the problem that most non-GSM providers will refuse to activate a phone not sold by them. iDEN might not be such a big problem however, since most modern iDEN models use SIM cards similar to those used in GSM. Just unlock the phone and then pop your existing SIM into the new phone.