US carriers make it (somewhat) easier to unlock your phone

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If you’ve struggled with getting
your carrier to unlock your phone
so that you can easily travel
abroad — or, gasp, switch
providers — today is an important
day. As promised, seven US
networks (AT&T, Bluegrass
Cellular, Cellcom, Sprint, T-
Mobile, US Cellular and Verizon)
are now honoring a voluntary
code of conduct that, among
other things, lets you get your
phone unlocked without a big
fight. As a rule, carriers will
agree to derestrict your phone
after you’ve paid off your device
or service contract. You’ll have to
ask most of them to do it, which
could take up to two days. It’s
easier on a couple of carriers,
however. Sprint will automatically
unlock SIM-based cellular service
on phones bought from today
onward, while T-Mobile bundles
an app with newer phones that
lets you start the process
yourself.

Just be aware that there are
plenty of asterisks (the code is
the carriers’ idea, after all). If
you’re the customer of a prepaid
brand like Cricket or Virgin
Mobile, you may have to wait up
to a year and keep service active
to a “reasonable” degree. Also,
Sprint will only unlock your
phone for domestic use if it’s a
model released after February
11th; anything earlier is limited
to international access. You’re
bound by the limits of cellular
technology, too. Verizon unlocks
GSM service on its phones as a
matter of course, but you can’t
switch from GSM to CDMA unless
the phone has supporting CDMA
hardware (like the iPhone 6 or
Nexus 6). And with few LTE
frequences shared between
American telecoms, you’ll likely
lose fast data.

It’s important to note that you
don’t have to go through your
telco to get this done. Thanks to
last year’s cellphone unlocking
law , you’re allowed to get your
phone unlocked without your
carrier’s explicit say-so. The
catches? You’ll almost certainly
have to pay, and there won’t be
much consistency in their
policies. The big advantage of
the code of conduct is that you
now have an easily accessible
and reliable (if not always
trouble-free) way to jump ship
with your existing handset.

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