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What you should know about unlocking cellphones starting next week

first_imgMost smartphones have finally evolved to using SIM cards, and thanks to wireless radios there’s only a few degrees of difference between using a phone on one carrier versus another. But just as it gets easier for users to unlock a smartphone and stick it on another network at will, the DMCA has been updated to make this behavior illegal. There’s more than a few ways around this as it turns out, depending on which carrier you are on and what phone you have.The update to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act makes it so you can’t just force your phone to connect to another carrier. Previously, this was only really possible with AT&T and T-Mobile, as they both used SIM cards and made phone calls on the same kinds of networks. It was far from perfect, especially when it came to data connections. If you were to take an iPhone 4, for example, and unlock it for T-Mobile, the data connection would be terribly slow. As T-Mobile began their initiative to support the same HSPA+ bands as AT&T, it became a far greater prospect. T-Mobile even advertised to users a way to bring their iPhones away from AT&T if they so chose. Not just iPhones, either, and phone with the same HSPA+ bands can be moved from AT&T to T-Mobile and enjoyed on their network.The problem with this comes with phone subsidy. When you buy a phone on contract from a carrier, you are agreeing to pay them a certain amount of money every month for two years. In exchange for guaranteeing your carrier this money for two years, you can buy the phone at a discounted rate. In most cases, you wind up only paying $200 up front for a $500-$600 phone and the rest of that $3-400 over the two year period. If you don’t pay your monthly bill, your service is terminated. If you’ve already unlocked your phone and moved it to another carrier, you don’t much care about your service with the other carrier being terminated. This is not why most people unlock their phones, but it’s a problem that is a perfect example of why many carriers aren’t a fan of an open unlock policy.While it seems like it should be the carrier’s job to enforce whether or not a phone they sell is unlocked on contract, the DMCA has been updated to make this practice illegal. This isn’t as cut and dry as it may seem, though, depending on your carrier.AT&T, for example, allows for a phone to be unlocked after a contract is expired. Furthermore, if you purchase a phone outright from AT&T without a subsidy, you can request that the phone be unlocked right there in the store. The DMCA law update isn’t there to stop users from unlocking phones that are purchased outright, rather to stop users who are taking advantage of the price gap caused by phone subsidy. There’s some unfortunate side effects to this ruling, especially when it comes to the third party sales market. If you inadvertently purchase a locked phone from eBay or Craigslist, for example, you’ll have to gamble and call the carrier to request an unlock.Manufacturers and retailers have seen this coming, and many of them already offer solutions. Amazon sells nearly every modern smartphone unlocked, waiting for the user to put whatever supported SIM card they have into the handset. Apple offers the unlocked version of the iPhone through Apple Stores, and Google has been selling their Nexus phones unlocked on Google Play for some time now.You’d be hard pressed to find a phone today that wasn’t either already available in an unlocked or “developer edition” format on a carrier where it made sense to unlock and port your phone. The only difference is that you’re paying the full price for the phone up front instead of agreeing to a contract that doesn’t allow you to unlock the phone and move it to another carrier until the contract is done.Read more at the Federal Registerlast_img read more