An unlocked phone is the key to getting service from an alternative carrier.
We talk a lot about using MVNO carriers as a way to find a cheaper alternative for service. It’s something that’s gaining popularity and while it isn’t exactly mainstream just yet, it’s getting there. We think that’s great because having even more choices can’t be a bad thing. But in most cases, before you can try any other service provider, you’ll need to have a SIM-unlocked phone. That means you can use a SIM card from any company and as long as the hardware is compatible with the network, it just works.
While some of us already know if our phones are unlocked or how to check, here’s what you need to know if you are looking for a little help.
Where did you buy it, and how?
In the U.S., Verizon is the only carrier who is consistent with selling all their smartphones unlocked. What we mean here is that if you walk into a Verizon store or use their website and buy a phone made for Verizon with their name on it, it’s probably going to be SIM unlocked. Note that this doesn’t mean you should buy a Verizon branded phone to use on a different network because SIM unlocked doesn’t mean fully compatible. Just that Verizon is OK with you putting another SIM in the phone and letting the hardware try to connect to a different network.
The other three networks, as well as Best Buy or other third-party carrier resellers, are not as reliable when it comes to selling unlocked phones. Some are, some aren’t — but every one of them can be unlocked, because that’s the law.
If you bought your phone from Amazon or B&H or another online retailer, it told you in the listing if it was unlocked. If you don’t remember, a quick call or email to customer service will help you find a copy of the listing to double check. Of course, if you bought your phone directly from the manufacturer, if it was listed as unlocked it will be and there is no need to check. All phones sold directly from Google and Apple (if paid in full at time of purchase) are unlocked, and many phones from other manufacturers are sold directly and SIM unlocked, too.
For the rest of the phones out there, there’s really only one fool-proof way to check — try it.
Use a SIM card from a different carrier
You’ll see references to the website imei.info that claim you can check online. While that might be true, the service costs money and has been incorrect five out of five times I have tried. I’ll come right out and say it — …read more