You’ve probably heard the terms locked and unlocked when it comes to cell phones, but many people do not know what that means or how to tell the difference between a locked and unlocked phone. This guide will provide all the information you need on locked and unlocked phones, how to tell the two apart, and what the advantages and disadvantages are of each type are.
Overview of the Differences Between Locked and Unlocked Cell Phones
Locked Cell Phones
Locked cell phones can usually be purchased by a wireless network and generally only work with that specific network.
Unlocked Cell Phones
Unlocked cell phones, however, are not connected to a specific network which means that they have the potential to connect to different networks.
Deciding Between Locked and Unlocked Cell Phones
Although choosing an unlocked phone that can work with different carriers might look like the most obvious choice, the choice between locked and unlocked cell phones can be a little more complicated. Here are some deciding factors that can help you choose between a locked and unlocked smart phone.
Unlocked cell phones are usually much more expensive than locked phones when initially purchasing them, by as much as two or three times. While this may seem surprising, the reason behind this is simple. When you buy an unlocked phone, you are paying the full purchase price of the phone whereas most locked phones allow you to pay less for the phone because they take on some of the purchase price.
Locked cell phones are typically less expensive than unlocked phones because wireless carriers often offer great deals on their smart phones when you commit to a long-term contract. Although in some networks it may seem like you’re getting a great deal on a smart phone by buying one this way, people will end up paying more in the long run because of the monthly contract fees. If you do try to get out of your contract early, there is an early termination fee that helps the phone company cover the cost of the phone.
Basically, buying an unlocked cell phone has a higher upfront cost, but it does allow you to change carriers at your leisure which can help you save money by not being tied to a long-term contract. However, if you are already with a carrier that you love and have no reason to change carriers in the next two years, choosing a locked cell phone can help you save money. Take into account that most phones can be unlocked even if they are tied to a contract.
Whether a phone is locked or unlocked, it can still only use the two main types of wireless technology that all phones use to connect to a network. These technologies are GSM technology and CDMA technology. Phones that use CDMA technology are not able to connect to wireless networks that use GSM technology, and vice versa. This is an important point particularly with unlocked cell phones because it does limit the types of networks the phone can connect to.
Technology Utilized by Locked Cell Phones
The technology used by locked cell phones will vary depending on the wireless provider that it is connected to. However, the technology is not as important in locked phones as is the provider. Locked phones purchased through AT&T, for example, will only work with AT&T. They are on the GSM network, but because the phone is locked, it cannot connect to towers owned by other wireless providers that use GSM technology. This makes a locked phone’s service a little easier to understand because it’s a little more limited.
Technology Utilized by Unlocked Cell Phones
Each phone will be different in terms of the type of technology it operates on. It will either be GSM or CDMA. If it is a phone that uses GSM technology, it can connect to AT&T and T-Mobile. If it uses CDMA technology, it can connect to Verizon and Sprint. This is important to understand if you are buying an unlocked cell phone to use on a specific network because an unlocked cell phone that uses GSM technology could not connect with Verizon’s networks. If you are purchasing an unlocked cell phone and planning on using a particular network, be sure to check which type of technology it uses before making your final decision.
Dual Technology Cell Phones
There are also unlocked cell phones which can actually use both CDMA and GSM technologies. Many of these are considered dual SIM devices which means you can install two SIM cards of two different wireless carriers. That means that by switching out SIM cards, you could potentially use any network by switching out the SIM cards.
How to Unlock a Locked Cell Phone
Unlocking a phone is quite simple and do not required technical knowledge. In most cases all you have to do is to enter the code provided by UnlockCode4U.com when the phone prompts for it.
What you need to know when it comes to unlocking a phone is that to do so, you can contact UnlockCode4U and we walk you through the necessary steps to unlock your phone.
This process happens most often when a customer is planning on leaving the country and want to be able to use their phone in places where they won’t be able to use their regular service provider. They can then use their phone to connect to the networks in the country they are visiting, and then are able to quickly re-connect to their own carrier when they return.
How to Check if a Phone is Unlocked or Locked
Since most cell phones don’t have “locked” or “unlocked” written across their screens, it might take a little detective work to figure out which one they are. However, there are a few simple tricks that you can use to figure out if a phone is locked or unlocked.
Most locked cell phones will have the brand of the specific carrier they were built for, so finding a brand name or a carrier’s logo is usually a good indication that it is or was a locked phone. While nearly all phones will have the logo or name of the manufacturer, unlocked phones will rarely carry any additional brandings.
If there is not an obvious wireless carrier logo on the outside of the phone, you can also check for branding by turning the phone on. Most locked phones will have the carrier’s logo appear while the phone is turning on.
Phones that have duel SIM card ports are nearly always designed to connect to different types of technologies or at least different types of wireless providers. This is a very good indication that the phone is unlocked and was originally sold as an unlocked phone because if it was locked for just one carrier, there would be no need for an additional SIM card port.
To confirm whether the phone is locked or unlocked, you can search for the model number online. This can be found on the back of the phone, usually beneath the battery or on the battery door. After you locate the model number, search for it online and you will soon discover if the cell phone was originally sold as unlocked or locked. You can also discover what type of technology the phone uses by doing a model number search.
Insert a Different SIM
The best test to find out if the phone is locked or unlocked is to try a SIM card for a different network. Once you’ve done the model number search to confirm the type of technology it uses, place a SIM card from a different carrier that has the same technology. If the phone is unlocked, it will quickly connect to the new service provider and you shouldn’t have any other problems. If the phone is locked, in most cases it will prompt for the Network Unlock Code.
Benefits and Downfalls of Unlocked and Locked Cell Phones
Benefits of Unlocked Cell Phones
- Freedom to choose between different wireless carriers
- No long-term contract so you can change carriers whenever you want without penalty.
- Unlocked phones don’t come with any extra bells and whistles that the carrier installs so you can just add the apps and programs that you want.
- These can save money in the long run because of the extra expenses that come from being locked into a long-term contract, and by being able to choose a wireless company that offers better pricing options.
- Unlocked phones typically have a higher resale value if you decide to sell your phone. This is because they are sought after by a larger audience of people and are preferred by people who travel overseas as well as people around the world who don’t have access to the wireless carrier in your area who are looking for a good smart phone.
- It’s also great if you travel out of the country because you can easily switch out your SIM card when you arrive and then begin using the foreign wireless carriers until you get back to your homeland.
Downfalls of Unlocked Cell Phones
- The only real downfall is the upfront cost is a lot higher for unlocked cell phones. However, by doing some math, you should be able to figure out whether or not an unlocked cell phone will actually save you money in the long run based on the total cost of monthly phone bills combined with monthly phone payments.
Benefits of Locked Cell Phones
- The initial cost of a locked cell phone can be a lot less expensive, particularly if you are already planning on using a particular wireless network carrier, and are not worried about committing to a long-term contract.
- There are also a number of warranty options that usually come with locked cell phones that you can choose from because many wireless carriers have their own warranty programs that allow you to work directly with your carrier if there are any problems with your phone. This avoids the need for sending your phone off to the manufacturer if there are any problems and could save you money if there are specific problems that are covered by the warranty.
- Locked cell phones may be found in a much wider variety than unlocked cell phones because the wireless carriers stock a number of different phone options whereas manufacturers do not put out as many varieties of unlocked phones. This can let you more freely choose from the many types of phones that are available to you.
- Most phones from GSM Carrier networks can be easily unlocked by unlock code without voiding the phone's warranty.
Downfalls of an Locked Cell Phone
- You are not able to choose which wireless carrier to work with, and if you do decide to change carriers in the future and you will either have to go through the process of unlocking your phone or buy a new phone.
- Most phone companies are able to offer great deals on their locked cell phones because you have to sign a long-term contract which will last either one or two years.
- Many carriers include extra apps and features installed onto all of their locked phones, all of which pertain directly to their company. These usually cannot be easily uninstalled which means you are stuck with these programs whether you want them or not.
Other Information on Unlocked and Locked Cell Phones
When it comes to unlocking a GSM phone versus a CDMA phone, there are a couple of notable differences. Because most phones that use GSM technology also have removable SIM cards, they are usually more easily unlocked when compared to CDMA phones. Many CDMA phones have built-in SIM cards which means they cannot always be unlocked, even with an unlocking code directly from the manufacturer. To unlock a phone that uses CDMA technology, you may have to bring them in person to the wireless network you are trying to connect to once you are able to get them unlocked.
Worldwide Cell Phone Technologies
While the United States almost exclusively uses either GSM or CDMA technologies, most of the rest of the world uses GSM. Industry experts predict that the world is headed toward exclusively using GSM technologies. If you are looking for an unlocked cell phone in order to travel, it is best to find one that uses GSM technologies since it is more readily available around the globe.
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