Attention! This guide will change your mind about buying a locked mobile handset.
Locked Handsets with SIM Locks are designed to stop a user from buying a phone with one carrier and then using it with another carrier. Most prepaid and some postpaid handsets are locked to the initial provider selling the handset. On most (if not all) prepaid phone’s packages would specify details of the network lock. In the case of postpaid phones, when a phone is purchased outright the merchant would provide this information upon purchase. However, there are situations when, despite the information written on the packaging, the phone turns out not to be SIM locked. Therefore, if you want to find out whether your phone is indeed locked or not, the easiest thing to do is to insert the SIM card of another carrier or two in your phone and see if the phone is still working.
Why Carriers Lock Their Handsets
One reason why mobile phones are network locked is the fact that providers subsidize them in order to make them more affordable. By locking the mobile phones they sell, they force their customers to keep using their service. This way, carriers recover the initial loss but maintain a customer base to provide mobile deals.
Can Handsets be Unlocked?
Fortunately, if your phone is locked, solutions to unlock it are available. Most providers allow customers to unlock their phones, as long as they meet their conditions. For example, some carriers ask an unlocking fee raging between $80 and $595.The fees for unlocking a prepaid phone are generally smaller than those for postpaid phones or 3G sets.
providers subsidize phones in order to make them more affordable.
Other carriers allow their customers to unlock their mobile phones after using them up to a specific credit value. For example, Virgin Mobile allows you to unlock the phone if you have used prepaid credit of at least $80 with the carrier. Carriers have this type of information in their database, so there is no need to keep track of the credit you use. Other carriers allow you to unlock the phone after a specific amount of time, for example, 6 months.
Types of Handset Locks
There are two types of phone lock – locking your handset or locking your SIM card. The handset-only lock allows you to use your SIM card on other phones, provided that they are unlocked. The SIM-only lock prevents you from using the card on other phones. However, both of these types of locks are referred to as SIM locks. Here are the distinctions between them:
|Handset-Only Lock||SIM-only Lock|
|Use SIM on other Handset||Yes||
No (After you supply the appropriate PIN,Yes)
|Use Handset with other SIM||No||Yes|
Your carrier sets the handset-only lock, and you have no control over the settings and codes. SIM-only locks are set by your carrier and you, with the help of PINs and PUK codes. The next table describes each type of lock.
Service (SP) Locks
PIN1 and PUK1
PIN1 and PUK2
This is the most popular type of lock used by carriers. A network locked phone cannot be used with other SIM cards except the ones of a particular network. This type of lock is common among carriers which own network infrastructure. Vodafone, Telstra and Optus prepaid phones are network locked. In other words, an Optus phone will not work with a Telstra SIM card and vice versa. However, the Optus phone can be used with any other Optus SIM card.
Similar to country locks, network locks prevent using the phone with other SIM cards, but the SIM card in itself is not locked.
Service Provider lock
SP locked phones only work with SIM cards of the specific service provider. Service providers which do not own network infrastructure lock their phones, just like carriers do. This type of lock affects only the phone, not the SIM card. Service providers which lock their handsets include Virgin Mobile.
In fact, service providers can apply two types of locks to their phones: SP lock or network lock. Optus’s service provider, Virgin Mobile, can apply a network lock, so its phones will accept both Optus and Virgin Mobile cards, or an SP lock, case in which the handset will work only with a Virgin Mobile card.
service providers can apply two types of locks to their phones: SP lock or network lock.
Practically, Virgin Mobile phones use a mixture of these two types of locks. Some are SP locked, while others are network locked.
Before discussing about PINs and PUKs, an introduction to SIM cards is necessary.
SIM cards – The Basics
A SIM card can be seen as the handset’s ID card. The acronym ‘SIM’ stands for Subscriber Identity Module and it is, in fact, a microcomputer. This microcomputer stores your information - mobile phone number, information about your location and registration details. Compared to CDMA systems, which do not use SIM cards, GSM ones use SIM cards widely. 3D systems use USIM cards (Universal SIM).
SIM cards can be switched between phones (if they are not SIM locked, obviously), which makes them very convenient. A SIM card has memory space available for a phone book or SMS, so when switching phones, you can be sure all the information you need is ready to use.
Although you also have the possibility to save you phone book in the mobile phone’s memory, saving it on the SIM, also, offers you a lot of flexibility when it comes to switching between different phones. As long as you have your phone book on the SIM card, you can use it on other handsets, without having to reenter data. However, having the phone book saved in the phone’s memory allows you to use SIM cards of different carriers on the same handset.
PUKs and PINs: A detailed guide
Considering that the SIM card stores your identity, there must be a way to protect this information from being stolen. This is the reason why PINs and PUKs have been invented. These codes are the security system of your card.
‘PIN’ comes from Personal Identity Number, and it is a four digit number you have to enter in order to access your phone. If you have set up a PIN code on a handset, you have to reenter the code every time you want to use the phone. Because the SIM card is protected by the PIN code, you will have to enter the code when trying to use the card on other handsets, as well. As you can see, PINs prevent unauthorized users from having access to the information stored in the SIM.
PINs have the great advantage that they protect your card, but they come with an even greater disadvantage: you have to remember the code and enter it correctly every time you want to use your handset. Enter the code incorrectly three times, and you will block your SIM card and lose the possibility to make any phone calls.
The PUK code has 8 digits, and it is provided by your carrier.
Here is where the ‘PUK’ steps in. The PUK is a Personal Unlocking Key you have to provide in case you mistakenly block your SIM card. The PUK code has 8 digits, and it is provided by your carrier. If you enter it correctly, you get the chance to reenter the PIN. However, if you enter the PUK incorrectly for 6 or more times, your SIM will be completely blocked. And this means you will have to pay between zero and $50 to buy yourself a new SIM card.
The type of PIN and PUK described above is typically referred to as PIN1 and PUK1. There is another set of codes, named PUK2 and PIN2, which you can use to access specific functions. For example, you can use these codes to restrict calls to specific numbers, in case you leave your phone with other people.
How to Unlock Mobile Phones
If you honour the unlocking conditions set by your carrier and want to get it unlocked, you can give your carrier a call and ask them to unlock your phone. You can expect them not to be very willing to do this, so you might have to wait a little longer than you would want to. Most of the times, you will receive the unlocking instructions over the phone or in a letter. Sometimes, unlocking a phone can take as long as a few weeks.
Of course, there is also the possibility to have your phone unlocked without asking your carrier. There are a lot of ads on the internet which offer to unlock phones for various fees. Another solution is provided by phone clips, which reprogram the software of a mobile phone, thus unlocking it. However, because locking codes are not mathematically generated – they are random codes, unlocking mobile phones through third parties might turn out to be impossible.
Considerations for Phone Unlocking
One thing you have to remember when unlocking your phone with the help of third parties or by yourself is the fact that you will lose the phone’s warranty. Although there are no laws prohibiting it in Australia, not having your carrier’s consent to unlock your phone does not effect your service contract with your provider.
Information You'll Need to Unlock Your Mobile Phone
However, if you already have a mobile phone and it's locked for use with a specific provider, and you want to leave to take up a better offer with another provider when your contract expires, or if you want to sell the phone to buy another, you can have your phone unlocked. To do so you'll need obtain the phones unlocking code and to get hold of this code you'll need to have the following information available:
- The mobile phones IMEI number. This is a serial number that's always 15 digits long and it can be found on an Android phone by typing *#06# on the keypad of the phone you want unlocked. If you have a iPhone you simply go to the iPhones main menu and touch 'Settings' then 'General' then 'About'
- The model number of the phone along with the name of its manufacturer
- The name of the network the phone is locked into, as well as the country the network is operating in
- The mobile phones actual number.
From there it isn't a difficult process. Once your phone's unlocked you'll have the freedom to go to any service provider you want which in many cases can mean cheaper texts, lower roaming charges and better deals generally.
Many Providers will Unlock Your Phone for you
Many providers will unlock your mobile phone for you once your contract with them has expired. This is usually a free service but if a charge is made it's normally very low. However there remains some who won't supply such a service and if you happen to have one of these uncooperative companies as your provider you will have to get outside assistance. Therefore before you pay money to a company to unlock your mobile phone for you, you should always ask the provider you're currently with what their policy is in this regard phone unlocking, so you know where you stand.