Unlock Your Cellphone Now

The US Copyright office killed cellphone crippleware companies locking your phone to their sepecific service last week. We heard about this but didn’t post anything, as we didn’t see anything actually compelling cellphone companies to let you enjoy the full use of your phone. full phone portability.

However, Reader Mike says, “I called up t-mobile immediately [after reading this] and they sent the form off to the manufacturer to get the unlock code for me. Should take up to 7 days.”

If you would like access to previously blocked features on your phone, like mp3 playing or certain kinds of video transfer, be able to take your cellphone to a different carrier, try calling up your cellphone company and ask for the unlock code. Let us know how it works out. — BEN POPKEN

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  1. d0x says:

    If someone gets an unlock code for a verizon krzr feel free to post it and how to use it.

  2. Ben Popken says:

    Sajit writes:

    “I just called verizon–neither their first-level customer service representatives or their technical support representatives have been informed about any of these changes to the rules by the U.S. copyright office.”

  3. Ran Kailie says:

    See the problem is, not all phones use codes to be unlocked. Case in point most Son Ericsson phones require a program and a cord to connect your phone to the PC.

    So in that case, does it mean if you take the phone back to the store they’ll unlock it? I think I’ll give it a whirl and see what happens.

  4. solmssen says:

    Ben – I think you misunderstood the meaning of this ruling.

    When you buy a cell phone from a carrier, that phone has what is called a subsidy lock to that carrier. The subsidy lock keeps you from using the phone with any carrier but the one you purchased the phone from. This is because the phone’s cost is subsidized (usually about $200 worth) by the carrier in expectation of revenue from the voice plan contract. This ruling makes it illegal to prevent a user from taking his phone to another carrier by refusing to unlock the subsidy lock. The principle seems fair – if you pay an early termination fee to get out of the contract, you’re essentially paying back the subsidy, so you should be able to do what you want with the phone.

    This ruling does not affect the issues you mention in your post. These functionality issues (bluetooth limitations, mp3 playing, etc.) are imposed by the customized firmware placed on the phones by the carrier you purchase it from.

    For example:

    When the GSM Treo 650 first came out, it was available from Cingular, and as a generic GSM phone directly from Palm. The Cingular version of the phone did not originally support using the phone as a modem with your laptop via Bluetooth (sometimes called DUN or Dial-Up Networking), but the Palm version did. That limitation was imposed by Cingular in the firmware, not because of the subsidy lock. Unlocking the subsidy lock on the Cingular phone would not have enabled DUN, only changing the firmware would do that. Unlocking the subsidy lock would only allow you to take that phone, with its Cingular firmware and limitations, to T-Mobile or another GSM carrier if you desired.

    This is a moot point for many users, anyway. Sprint and Verizon both use CDMA phones, not GSM. While technically you can reprogram a Sprint phone for Verizon and vice-versa, the CDMA carriers have stopped allowing you to use a phone they didn’t sell with their networks. If the phone has an ESN that’s not in their database, you can’t use it on their network. Subsidy locks don’t matter here – it’s not that you can’t take the phone off the originating network, which subsidy locks prevent, it’s that the receiving network won’t accept a phone they didn’t sell. They claim it’s for technical and security reasons – really, it’s about the money, as it always is.

    My practice in the long term has been to buy unlocked, generic GSM phones direct from the manufacturer (Nokia, Palm, Sony Ericsson, etc.), not subsidy-locked, carrier-customized phones from the carrier, and keep my voice contracts to a year. It gives me the illusion of freedom, at least, although the consolidation in the GSM carrier market in the US has reduced that a bit.

    Be well…

  5. rekoil says:

    Even less than that – it doesn’t require the carriers to be willing to unlock the phone for you; the ruling simply says that the carriers cannot claim that the act of unlocking a phone violates the circumvention clause of the DMCA. So it’s not require, just not longer potentially illegal.

  6. RumorsDaily says:

    Solmssen – I think you’re overstating what this ruling does: “This ruling makes it illegal to prevent a user from taking his phone to another carrier by refusing to unlock the subsidy lock.”

    In fact the ruling simply makes it legal for end users to circumvent the copy protection system (here the ‘lock’) without facing punishment for DMCA anti-circumvention violations. The phone companies are still free to put locks on their phones and are perfectly within their rights not to tell you how to unlock them.

    I think.

  7. solmssen says:

    rekoil and Ingen are correct – the ruling prevents the carriers from claiming DMCA protection for subsidy locks. I think the rest of my post is accurate, though.

  8. weave says:

    Just fyi, t-mobile was always willing to unlock a phone after 90 days of service. Unlocked GSM phones are very useful when going to another country with GSM service (most in the world). Just buy a pre-paid SIM there, pop it into your phone, and you instantly get a local phone number and local rates in whatever country you are visiting. Beats the heck out of paying GSM roaming rates.

    Whenever I go overseas I carry two phones, my current t-mobile phone so I can get calls to my U.S. number forwarded there (I pay roaming charges for it) plus my older GSM phone that is unlocked that I use a prepaid SIM and get a local number (that I give to people in that country). I use the local one for local calls.

    Best of both worlds.

  9. rekoil says:

    Weave: Good plan, if you absolutely need to be able to answer calls to your US number; I prefer to record an outgoing VM on my US line giving callers my temporary overseas number. Hasn’t caused any problems to date.

  10. Ben Popken says:

    Wow, I really read it wrong. Not a good brain day. Shall revise, thanks!

  11. phenostar says:

    Damn, and here I was thinking I could now actually use my Xingtone on my Sprint Katana. Seemed too good to be true…

  12. spanky says:

    phenostar: You probably can, at least on paper. I do not know what Xingtone is or anything about your phone, either, but generally, what you want to do is called ‘flexing’ the phone, which just means changing the firmware so your phone supports a different feature set and maybe the UI looks different. Usually, this means just changing the features of your phone so it has some other provider’s UI, though. So it’s possible you’d have to write your own firmware to make it work.

    I don’t know if this would be covered under the new DMCA exemptions, necessarily, but that wouldn’t scare me, personally. What would scare me is that I don’t know how to do it, so I’d probably screw up my phone.

  13. ckilgore says:

    Dear god I am so confused. Does this mean I can buy a cell phone at any retailer, take it into Verizon and they will let me use it?

  14. spanky says:

    christy: You’d have to make sure you had a compatible phone, but you’ve always been able to do that. The carriers aren’t concerned about you using a different phone on their network. They’re concerned about you using the phones you get from them on another network.

    Realistically, this ruling isn’t going to make an immediate difference for most consumers. I think most people who are inclined to remove their provider locks had already done so and had excellent arguments that that aspect of the DMCA was way too broad to be enforceable. There are even companies that will remove the provider locks for you.

    This is a huge deal, though, in terms of limiting the DMCA and sending a message to manufacturers and resellers that consumers actually own the products they’ve purchased from them. (Essentially, that aspect of the DMCA allows manufacturers to put serious restrictions on the use of products without even a contractual agreement on the part of the consumer. Slippery slopily, if a radio manufacturer had put screws on the battery panels of their radios, they could have made the argument that removing the screws and replacing the batteries yourself was a DMCA violation.)

    So this is a pretty big deal, even though most people probably won’t see much immediate benefit from it.

  15. ckilgore says:

    spanky – thanks for explaining it. i never knew that.

  16. olegna says:

    >> This is because the phone’s cost is subsidized (usually about $200 worth) by the carrier in expectation of revenue from the voice plan contract.

    Phone locking seems to be a uniquely American scam. And while it is need cheaper to buy a phone with a subscription due to a “subsidy” have you ever compared prices of phones in brick-and-mortar stores? (Not just in Cingular, etc. stores but also because they dominate all the cell-phone areas of major chain stores. For example, you can’t go to Circuit City and buy an unlocked phone. If you got o Circuit City, there’s a Cingular or T-Mobile or whatever kiosk in the store.)

    The only place to get an unlocked phone in the US seems to be online. I saw a Palm Treo 650 for $650 if purchased without a subscription in a brick-and-mortar store. Online, an unlocked new Palm Treo is less than $500. Sounds to me like they’re subsidizing by ripping off anyone stupid enough to pay $200 more than the phone is worth without a subscription, then using this “stupid people money” to subsidize the customers that want to save $200 by chaining their mobile phone to some telecom service provider.

    This is incredibly inconvenient for customers that move around a lot. Cingular doesn’t provide universal coverage (even in the US), which means if you move to a part of the country where Cingular doesn’t serve with a CIngular-bought locked phone, you can’t use it without maying $50 to unlock it.

    Using pre-paid calling cards of other carriers won’t work, either, rendering these locked phones useless should you decide to take it abroad and want to a local PP card to save money . And if you go to a place where, say, Cingular doesn’t have a roaming agreement with a foreign carrier, you’re locked phone won’t work at all.

    When I go abroad I am consistently told by people who go to the US “what’s the deal with your mobile service providers?” They shake their heads and wonder how this locking thing is a pro-consumer strategy. Sounds to me like all the US mobile service providers are part of some mutually beneficial cartel.

    Add to that that fact that all or most of the US works on the 850 band, while the rest of the world (including Europe) uses up to three other bands. Many tri-band phones bought abroad won’t work at all in the US (unless one of those bands happens to be 850) and vice versa.

    The best “universal” phone is a quad-band phone using inter-changable PP cards. The only drawback to that is haivng a different number depending on which network you use. I have three I used and maintain regularly. By “maintain”, I mean another scam:

    Most carriers abroad will maintain your PP card number indefinitely or up to year no matter how much you spend. Some even allow you to transfer the number to another PP calling card on another a carrier. My Cingular PP card requires a $100 minimum purchase for a number that’s good for a year. Basically, you have to pay $100 a year to Cingular to maintain your PP calling card number, or you lose it at the next expiration date.

  17. bucfan says:

    Ok, I still have questions. I currently have Cingular/AT&T. But I really like the Sprint Samsung M610, which I have only because I got Sprint for a day or two before I realized they dont provide coverage at my house cuz I live on the beach. The M610 does not have a SIM. So am I right to think I can not unlock this phone some how and use it on my Cingular carrier?

  18. bucfan says:

    How long does it take for a post to show up usually?