Sprint Will Allow Departing Customers To Unlock Their Phones

Sprint will relinquish unlock codes to departing customers in good standing as part of proposed class action settlement.The class was formed last year by California consumers who argued that the locked phones bound them to Sprint by making it more expensive to switch carriers. Sprint claimed that releasing the codes was unnecessary since the service contract clearly informed consumers that phones would only work on Sprint’s network.

Sprint phones will only work on the CDMA networks used by Verizon and Alltel, not the GSM networks run by AT&T and T-Mobile.

The settlement covers all customers who bought Sprint phones between Aug. 28, 1999, and July 16, 2007. It should allow those phones to be switched to competitors whose networks are compatible with Sprint’s, such as Verizon Wireless and Alltel Corp.

Sprint, whose operational headquarters is in Overland Park, has denied wrongdoing but said it agreed to settle the cases to avoid the uncertainties and expense of litigation.

“We think this is a fair and reasonable settlement,” said Matt Sullivan, a spokesman for Sprint.

The settlement is a victory for consumers, and will hopefully nudge other carriers towards releasing their own codes. Similar class actions have been filed against T-Mobile, Apple and AT&T.

Sprint Nextel will provide code to unlock cell-phone software [Kansas City Star]
(Photo: Maulleigh)


Edit Your Comment

  1. anmlStyl says:

    *sound of crickets*

    Great, these phones are unlocked, but what network and carrier will take the phone for use? Asia and Europe are on the GSM standard, and our counterparts North and South of us, Canada and Mexico respectively, are probably on that standard. Unless Verizon will allow for unlocked Sprint phones (which I think are on the same type of network), these phones would be unlocked toys for phone fans.

  2. BigNutty says:

    This lawsuit is at least moving this issue of locked phones in the right direction for consumers.

  3. LiC says:

    I hope this doesn’t mean that my brother wants his phone back. He switched to his fiance’s carrier and I got his practically new phone.

    Aside from that, this announcement makes me happy.

  4. MyCokesBiggerThanYours says:

    This who locked phone stuff seems dumb to me. These phones are tailored to these specific carriers.

  5. chili_dog says:

    Unlocking will do little to assuage the “branding” problem. The phones with carrier specific programming can not be used for certain functions unless the connections to said service can be reset. Specifically, picture messaging. If the MMS send/receive settings can not be set to the new carrier, that feature will not function. Same thing with internet.

    So you are better off getting the highend handsets if you plan on taking them to another carrier, one with more programming options. I recommend any Windows Mobile device. They are easy to retask.

  6. levenhopper says:

    You can always get a free phone from your new carrier. Sure, it may not be as nice, but it isn’t as if you NEED to buy a new phone to switch carriers.

  7. 8abhive says:

    @levenhopper:Sure you can get one of the low-end free phones, with a 2-year commit. But hopping from one trap to another isn’t much of a fix.

  8. 8abhive says:

    @MyCokesBiggerThanYours: That’s a bit turned around. The phones are “tailored” (locked and feature trimmed) precisely to tie them to a carrier. Getting rid of the coded locks is the first big step toward real choice for U.S. cell consumers, something other countries have had for years.

  9. Parting says:

    @anmlStyl: Actually Canada, Mexico and part of Asia are mainly on CDMA, not GSM.

    So if you could unlock your phone, that could be practical.

    Even if it’s only to resell your old phone on eBay.

  10. yg17 says:

    Verizon won’t activate a Sprint phone. Not sure about Alltel.

    This seems rather pointless if you ask me, and is also one of the million reasons why everyone should use GSM

  11. Boberto says:

    The wireless carriers can’t keep me hostage by holding on to my number, or my equipment now.

    Geez, the only things left are price and service. That’s fucking unthinkable!

  12. cobaltthorium says:

    Well, wouldn’t the prudent thing to do (in the interest of consumer freedom) be to file suit to force carriers to activate COAM phones, no matter what provider originally sold them?

    GSM vs. CDMA. Not really a debate I want to go into, but just saying everyone should use GSM isn’t practical. Some people don’t like GSM phones, and saying that everyone should use them just because you can’t activate them somewheres else after you cancel seems more like running away than asserting your rights.

  13. Scazza says:

    @anmlStyl: In Canada, the largest provider of service is Bell, which is mainly CDMA… HOWEVER, Bell does not allow non-bell phones ON their network, so this means nothing to sprint customers moving north of the border. The cell has to be pre-registered with bell in order to work. So yeah, this unlocking allows them to go from sprint to a minute number of other carriers who use CDMA, IF the carrier allows non-bounded phones on the network… which my guess would be none, saying the whole point of CDMA is pretty much that, locking to 1 network…

    Also, the new carrier would have to then divulge their carrier code, and possibly even hardcode the phone to get the internet to work on it. I know many phones that the internet will only activate through a certain portal thats usually set up as the original carriers and bringing a phone to another network would cause it to not access the web (this problem is well documented with the moto Q as it can have its Home SID programmed manually among other things, but the internet will not activate thanks to a non-programmable internet, as far as I can recall. Another example is Telus’s “SPARK” internet services on their phones, bringing their phone to another network would pretty much make the net unusable on the cell)…

  14. Scazza says:

    @cobaltthorium: Exactly. As much as I love GSM’s interoperability, and ease of use, CDMA is a much better tech in terms of quality, reception and net speed. 1xEVDO revA is broadband speed (been playing around with a test unit recently, its bloody fast)

  15. calvinneal says:

    Rogers in Canada is GSM technology.

  16. MrEvil says:

    @Scazza: AT&T tried that back in the day here in the US where you couldn’t hook anything but AT&T equipment to the phone (which they charged you for). Odds are if enough people complained to the FCC the feds would apply that rule to Cell providers too.

  17. chili_dog says:

    @cobaltthorium: GSM is the practical choice if you want to use your handset elsewhere. Certainly a person who rarely ever travels (especially international), uses it just as a simple voice device and isn’t concerned about features won;t care or even know about unlocking. But those of us that do need a device that is compatible everywhere. Try to use that sprint handset in Asia.

    Besides, the simplicity of changing SIMs makes GSM the best choice.

  18. Just waiting for it to fall against AT&T so I can get my old Cingular phone unlocked and use it with T-Mobile…

  19. chili_dog says:

    I unlock most Cingular phones all day long. Sure, it’ll cost ya $25 bucks, but it can be done today.

  20. m0unds says:

    Seems silly– Sprint and Verizon have policies in effect preventing them from activating phones that don’t have their branding on them..

  21. Ben Popken says:

    They’re also going to allow non-Sprint phones to connect to the Sprint network.

  22. savvy9999 says:

    Why didn’t the class action allow anyone who bought a Sprint-locked phone the option to get out of their contract ETF-free? Now that would have been something worth cheering about. This settlement is worthless, no wonder Sprint agreed to it; they look great and get free good pub on Consumerist while unlocking maybe 7 phones.

  23. chili_dog says:

    @Ben Popken: I’ll believe that when I can use INC to connect one. Believe me, the back end of Sprint is so fouled up that subscriber accounts are spread across 3 different accounting/management platforms.