How Do I Know if My Cell Phone is Unlocked?

How Do I Know if My Cell Phone is Unlocked?

Written by Wilson Amplifiers
7th Jan 2021

How Can You Tell if Your Phone is Unlocked?

Cell phone service carriers want your business, and they don’t want to lose it. Many carriers offer extravagant deals and discounts on cell phones to get you signed up on their plans — and “locking” these phones is their insurance policy to keep you from bouncing to a competitor’s service once you’ve secured that great deal on your device.

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What is an Unlocked Phone?

A locked cell phone is just like it sounds -- software keeping the device locked onto one single carrier (like Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile, Cricket, Boost Mobile, Straight Talk, etc.). One reason for this practice is that it protects the buyer from theft of their new phone. It also, however, tethers that phone to the service provider from which it was purchased. Unlocking this device removes this software, and makes the phone eligible for use on other networks.

What’s the Difference Between Unlocking and Jailbreaking a Phone?

Jailbreaking is the process of removing built-in limitations enforced by the manufacturer and wireless carriers on devices running the iOS operating system. The equivalent of this process for Android devices is known as rooting.

The whole purpose behind jailbreaking or rooting is to gain full access to the phone’s operating system. After the limitations have been removed, iPhone and Android users can download unauthorized third-party apps, update the operating system, replace the firmware, and much more.

Unfortunately, jailbreaking or rooting a phone can remove essential built-in security features, leaving your device vulnerable to malware infections which lead to hacking.

Unlocking a phone, however, safely removes the software code tethering the device to the carrier that originally sold the phone, which is something jailbreaking won’t do. Removing the code enables you to activate the device with any compatible cellular provider. So, if your goal was to download third-party apps and software, unlocking the device won’t grant you such freedom (sorry to disappoint). But, on the bright side, your device’s built-in security features will stay intact and protect your information from hackers.

Unlocked Phone vs Locked Phone: Which is Better?

Deciding whether to buy a locked or unlocked device can be a difficult decision. To make your choice easier, we’ve compiled a list of advantages and disadvantages to help you decide if a locked or unlocked phone is best for you.

Locked Phone Advantages:

  • Since the majority of locked devices are purchased from cellular carriers or third-party partners, you can oftentimes buy the device at a discount.
  • When buying the device, you can purchase it under a payment plan. You won’t have to pay for the device in full at the point of purchase, which is great since some phones cost over $1,000.
  • Buying a locked device guarantees that it will work perfectly with your carrier.

Locked Phone Disadvantages:

  • While the phone is locked, you can’t activate the device with any other carrier, aside from the carrier it was purchased from.
  • In some cases, you might end up paying more for a locked device. Cellular carriers want to make sure you stick around for a while, which is why they advertise attractive discounts on high-end devices. With or without the discount, the same device, but without the software code, can sometimes be found for less through Amazon or other merchants. You might have to pay for the cheaper phone in full, but in the long run, you will save some money.

Unlocked Phone Advantages:

  • You can easily switch cell phone carriers without having to purchase a new phone, as long as the phone is compatible with the carrier of your choosing.
  • When it comes down to purchasing an unlocked phone, you have the freedom to choose a device from different manufactures around the world. Just make sure the phone supports your cellular provider’s frequency bands.
  • Unlocked phones can come in handy for people who travel internationally. The majority of cell phone plans don’t offer free international calling and texting, you have to pay extra for these features. It’s much cheaper to activate your unlocked device through a local carrier while traveling.

Unlocked Phone Disadvantages:

  • You have to pay for the device in full at the point of purchase.
  • There is no guarantee that the unlocked device will work perfectly with the carrier of your choosing, especially if the phone was purchased from a different country. Carriers use specific frequencies to transmit information, and the phone must support some of those frequencies to work properly.

So, How do I Know if my Phone is Locked?

If you signed up for a payment plan to receive your new phone, chances are it’s locked. But if your device has been paid in full, especially directly from a retailer like the Apple Store, it may be unlocked.

The FCC requires each carrier to disclose its unlocking policy clearly and concisely on its website — and those carriers must unlock mobile wireless devices or provide the means to unlock their devices once their conditions have been met. These conditions may vary from carrier to carrier, but usually include the fulfillment of payment plans and/or service contracts (an early termination fee may be required if the contract is being cut short).

How to Check if my Phone is Unlocked?

There are multiple methods you can use to check if your iPhone or Android is unlocked.

Is my iPhone unlocked?

Navigate your way to Settings > Cellular > Cellular Data

If you see Cellular Data Options or Cellular Data Networks as a category, then your phone is likely unlocked.

Is my Android phone unlocked?

Navigate your way to Settings > Connections > Mobile Networks > Network Operators

If a network, like “Verizon” or “T-Mobile” appears under Network Operators, your phone may be unlocked.

While these methods are simple, they may not be foolproof. For further confirmation, switch your current carrier's SIM card out for another carrier’s SIM card. Most devices with internal batteries, such as iPhones, Samsungs, Google Pixels, and LGs, will require you to open the sim card slot with a removable tool, paper clip, or earing. After inserting the other carrier's sim card, some locked iPhone and Android devices will prompt you to enter an unlocking code. If you are not prompted to enter an unlocking code, make a phone call — if it connects, your phone is indeed unlocked.

When in doubt, contact your service provider. They are legally required to provide the lock status of your device in a timely manner (within two business days).

How to Unlock a Phone From any Carrier

If you purchased your cell phone on an installment plan, you’ll need to pay it off in full before you can take the steps to unlock it. Once you’ve passed this milestone — kudos to you! — follow these steps to unlock your iPhone or Android phone.

How to Unlock Your AT&T Phone:

Your phone must first meet eligibility requirements, including (but not limited to):

  • Must not be reported lost, stolen, or suspected of fraudulent activities
  • Completed contract or installment plan
  • Device isn’t active on another account
  • Your service must be active for at least 60 days with no past due or unpaid balance

To submit your AT&T phone unlock request:

  1. Visit > select Unlock your device (There is also an option to check your unlock status here)
  2. Read and agree to the eligibility requirements > Complete and submit the form
  3. You'll then receive a confirmation email with the unlock request number. Click through the email link within 24 hours of receipt to confirm (failure to do so within the time period will cancel the request)
  4. AT&T will respond within two business days to update you on the status of your unlock request. If approved, they’ll send you instructions for unlocking your device and inserting a new SIM card

How to unlock your Verizon Wireless phone:

Verizon phones are locked for 60 days after purchase or activation. After 60 days, the device is automatically unlocked, and will never be locked again.

How to Unlock Your T-Mobile Phone:

Your phone must first meet eligibility requirements, including (but not limited to):

  • Must be a T-Mobile device
  • Must not be reported lost, stolen, suspected of fraudulent activities, or blocked by T-Mobile
  • Account must be in good standing
  • Must have been active on the T‑Mobile network for at least 40 days on the requesting line

If your device meets these requirements, then you can contact T-Mobile Customer Service to request an unlock code and receive further instruction.

How to Unlock Your Sprint Phone:

Your phone must first meet eligibility requirements, including (but not limited to):

  • Must be SIM Unlock capable.
  • Must not be reported lost, stolen, or suspected of fraudulent activities
  • Completed contract or installment plan
  • Account must be in good standing
  • Must have been active on the Sprint network for at least 50 days

If all requirements are fulfilled, Sprint will automatically unlock postpaid devices when they become eligible. Sprint Forward customers must contact Customer Care to request their unlock.

How to Unlock Your Straight Talk Phone:

Your phone must first meet eligibility requirements, including (but not limited to):

  • Must be capable of being unlocked
  • Straight Talk will provide customers with a partial refund or credit against the purchase of a new Straight Talk phone if they meet certain criteria
  • Must not be reported lost, stolen, or suspected of fraudulent activities
  • Account must be in good standing
  • Must have been active on the Straight Talk network for at 12 months
  • Non-customers may be charged an unlocking fee

If your device meets these requirements, then you can contact customer support to request an unlocking code.

How to Unlock Your Cricket Phone:

Your phone must first meet eligibility requirements, including (but not limited to):

  • The device is designed for use on and is locked to Cricket's network
  • Must not be reported lost or stolen
  • Device is not associated with a fraudulent account
  • Must have been active for at least 6 months of paid service

If your device meets these requirements, then you can log in to your account to unlock your phone, or contact customer support.

Does an Unlocked Phone Work on any Carrier?

Not necessarily.

It’s entirely possible that a device made to operate with one carrier may not be technologically compatible with another provider’s network. Carriers utilize different frequencies and technologies to provide access to their network, so each phone is made to operate at peak performance with said network.

An unlocked phone simply disables the software that’s blocking it from switching providers. While some functionality is possible, there is a chance that your phone might not operate at its highest capacity after switching. Because of this, most carriers include a disclaimer on their websites.

In addition, there are two types of networks in the United States: CDMA and GSM. Verizon Wireless, US Cellular, and some prepaid companies use CDMA, while AT&T, T-Mobile, some prepaid companies, and most of the world use GSM. The main difference between GSM and CDMA is how they connect to the network. GSM devices use removable SIM cards to access the GSM network. CDMA phones, on the other hand, are directly connected to the network. Wait, don't CDMA devices use SIM cards also? Most CDMA devices now use SIM cards, but they aren’t used to connect to the CDMA network. They are used to access the 4G LTE network since the LTE standard also uses sim cards. For that reason, not all CDMA phones can operate on the GSM network, and vice versa.

Note: If you are thinking about switching your device to another carrier, you can visit the carrier's website to verify your phone's compatibility with said carrier. Simply type in your phone's IMEI number (International Mobile Equipment Identity Number) and you will have your answer in seconds.

Does my Phone Need to be Unlocked to Use an eSIM?

Many devices support two SIM cards. With two SIM cards, the user can switch between two separate cell phone carriers. In other words, you could use an AT&T and T-Mobile SIM card and alternate between networks. This feature comes in handy if you travel a lot or you want to use a single device for personal and business purposes. Some devices allow you to use two physical sim cards, while others use one physical SIM card and an eSIM card.

An eSIM is an electronic sim card. The difference between an eSIM card and a regular sim card is that the eSIM is already built into your device and can’t be removed. This makes switching accounts fast and easy without needing to replace the SIM card every time. Since eSIM cards are electronic and can’t be changed, are they compatible with other carriers even if the phone is locked?

To take full advantage of this feature, your device needs to be unlocked in order to activate the eSIM with another carrier.

Can a Carrier Lock Your Unlocked Phone?

Once a phone is unlocked, a carrier will not re-lock it.

Will Unlocking my Phone Help with my Poor Signal?

Not necessarily.

Unlocking your phone will allow you to activate it with a different carrier that can provide you better service. Simply unlocking the device won't magically improve your signal.

The best way to improve your signal is to purchase and install a cell phone signal booster. Regardless if you have a strong or poor cell phone reception outside your house, work place, or vehicle, the booster can amplify the signal for a stronger connection and faster mobile data speeds. Signal boosters will work with all mobile devices (smartphones, tablets, iPads, and hotspots) and with all major carriers.

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