HOWTO: Unlock Your Phone

Now that your phone is your own, you can unlock it. Depending on the type of phone it is, unlocking can be as simple as getting a code from your phone company, or as difficult as “drilling into a shield over the main circuit board to tap into the right contacts and kicking the phone into a special diagnostic mode to get at the unlocking code.” Uh, yeah. Thankfully there are smart people at PC Magazine who can give us the lowdown on the formerly shady practice of unlocking a cell phone.Yay!

First of all, according to PC Magazine, “if you’ve had a T-Mobile phone for 90 days, or you’ve run out of time on a Cingular contract, you can get an unlocking code just by calling your carrier. Tell your carrier’s customer service representative that you’re traveling abroad and want to use a foreign carrier’s SIM card. If they don’t give you the code, stick by your guns and ask for a manager.” This is awesome, but if it doesn’t apply to you, and you’d still like to unlock your phone, things can get trickier. The neat part about all of this is: You can transform some prepaid phones into regular cell phones.

More inside.

If you have an old Nokia phone, check out the “unlock code calculator.”

After that it starts to get tricky. You’re most likely going to have to buy something: A cable, some software, or even pay for a service. Some phones need hardware mods or are not unlockable at all, and some cell phone shops do “postal unlocking”, where you send away a phone, the shop unlocks it and sends it back to you, charging around $25 for the service. As long as you can locate a reputable dealer, this seems like a good deal—especially for newer fancier phones that might require you to purchase equipment. Cell phone unlocking tools can cost more than the phone is worth.

Unfortunately, all this phone unlocking fun is only for T-Mobile, Nextel, Boost and Cingular phones. Other carriers use CDMA phones, which have more “security” and can’t be unlocked. “Representatives of Sprint and Alltel said that banning other carriers’ phones protects the user-experience on their networks. “We think it’s important to optimize the customer experience by making sure all of the handsets on our network are optimized for it,” said Sprint spokesman Travis Sowders.” Losers. The rest of you can check out the linked article for more specific advice on your type of phone, then free your phone from its chains. —MEGHANN MARCO

How to Unlock Your Phone [PC Magazine]

Photo by Geektronica