Starting today, unlocking your paid for Windows Phone or other mobile device just became easier. The major carriers in the United States – AT&T, Verizon, Sprint, T-Mobile and US Cellular – have all voluntarily committed to CTIA consumer standards set forth back in 2013. The Consumer Code for Wireless Service was set out by the CTIA and it outlines guidelines for carriers when it comes to consumer rights and services. These five carriers along with Bluegrass Cellular and Cellcom all agreed to abide by these guidelines and a key part of them is unlocking of devices.
There are key definitions that you as a consumer need to keep in mind when it comes to calling your carrier today and asking for your device to be unlocked. First, there is Post-Paid Unlocking Policy. This is for your device that you bought on contract or you bought outright at the time you started service. If the device is paid for then you can request an unlock from the carrier. If you are
still paying for your device through monthly payments, then your carrier does not have to unlock it.
Second is Pre-Paid Unlocking. These are for pay-as-you-go devices that you pre-load with credit for minutes, data usage, etc. These devices will qualify for unlocking no later than one year after their initial activation.
Another important thing to remember is that the CTIA guidelines point out that the unlocking service is to be free for existing customers and for former customers, there can be a small fee charged to unlock the device. The guidelines also point out that carriers are to inform their customers when their devices become eligible for unlocking. There should be no guesswork required by you as a consumer. Finally, when you do request an unlock, you should have a response to the query within two business days and for you military members, you can get unlocked immediately regardless of your payment status if you present your deployment papers.
All of this is a very good thing for consumers, especially those who travel internationally. Now if you have a phone which you have paid for, you can request the unlock and pop an International SIM into your device instead of paying the often outrageous roaming fees by domestic carriers when traveling abroad. The change also allows for a much more open market for BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) to your carrier.
As readers will know, I’ve just returned from leaving in Europe for two-plus years where unlocked phones are common place and even if your device is locked, after 3 months, you can get it unlocked in most cases regardless of payment status. This change in the American market is significant.
There are a couple of things that you as a consumer need to keep in mind about unlocking devices. Unlike most of Europe, the US is heavily fragmented on carrier frequencies meaning that you may have an unlocked phone that you can call on but your data support may be significantly slower or not available if those frequencies aren’t supported. Make sure your phone supports the frequencies of the carrier you want to move to with your unlocked phone. Every carrier can easily and readily provides this information. Secondly, none of the carriers except AT&T at the time of this writing have indicated on their websites exactly how the unlocking process will happen. AT&T already has a Unlock Request page which in reviewing highlights all of the CTIA requirements.
So what do you think? Is the prospect of having your device unlocked a big deal to you? Tweet me up or post a comment and let me know what you think.