If you visit Amazon, Walmart, or other online shopping sites, you may find Unlocked cell phones, including iPhone and Android smartphones. In the US, unlocking SIM cards is pretty common. So, you might have the question, what does an unlocked phone mean? This article looks at a few points, including the meaning of an unlocked phone, SIM locks, how to remove SIM locks, etc.

Quick Summary A SIM-locked phone is restricted by software to work only with the carrier’s network that sold it. This ensures customer retention and cost recovery for carriers. However, unlocking a phone with other networks has become more accessible over time due to regulatory changes and consumer-friendly policies, allowing greater flexibility for users.

What Does SIM Locked Mean?

When a mobile device is described as “SIM-locked,” it means that the device has been restricted by software so that it can only be used with a single telecommunications carrier or network. Carriers commonly employ this practice to ensure that mobile devices they sell at a subsidized price or under specific contractual terms remain exclusive to their network for a certain period. This exclusivity allows the carrier to recoup the subsidy or incentivize customer loyalty.

From a technical perspective, the SIM (Subscriber Identity Module) card itself is not locked. Instead, the device’s firmware is programmed to reject SIM cards from other carriers. This is achieved through a mechanism that checks the SIM card’s International Mobile Subscriber Identity (IMSI) against a list of allowed IMSIs encoded in the device’s software or hardware.

Unlocking a SIM-locked device involves entering a unique code or undergoing a software update provided by the carrier or a third-party service. This code is designed to remove the restriction from the device’s firmware, allowing it to accept SIM cards from different carriers.

In my decade of experience with Android mobile and SIM management, I’ve seen the evolution of SIM-locking practices and unlocking techniques. Initially, unlocking required specialized knowledge or tools, but regulatory changes and carrier policies have made unlocking more accessible to consumers. Today, many carriers offer unlocking services after certain conditions are met, such as the completion of a contract period or payment of an unlocking fee.

Understanding and managing SIM-locked devices is crucial in a globalized world, where changing carriers or using local SIM cards during travel can significantly reduce communication costs. With the increasing shift towards more consumer-friendly policies, the prevalence of SIM-locked devices is changing, reflecting a balance between carrier business models and consumer freedom.

What is the purpose of having SIM Locked Devices?

The practice of SIM locking devices serves several purposes, primarily from the perspective of mobile carriers, and, to some extent, benefits consumers under specific circumstances. Here are the main reasons behind the existence of SIM-locked devices:

  1. Carrier Subsidization and Customer Retention: Carriers often subsidize the cost of mobile devices to make them more affordable for consumers. In return, they lock these devices to their network to ensure that customers remain with them for a certain period, typically the length of a contract. This practice helps carriers recoup the subsidy over time through service charges.
  2. Promotional Offers and Exclusive Deals: SIM locking attracts customers through special offers or exclusive deals on high-demand devices. By locking these devices to their network, carriers can offer them at competitive prices while ensuring that the benefits of such deals contribute to their customer base growth.
  3. Market Segmentation and Pricing Strategies: Carriers use SIM locking as part of their market segmentation and pricing strategies. By locking devices, they can offer tailored plans and pricing options suited to different market segments, ensuring a diversified customer base and effectively addressing specific needs.
  4. Fraud Prevention: SIM locking helps in mitigating the risk of fraud. It makes it more difficult for stolen devices to be used on other networks, thus reducing the incentive for theft. This measure indirectly benefits consumers by enhancing the overall security of their mobile devices.
  5. Regulatory Compliance: In some regions, carriers might use SIM locking to comply with local regulatory frameworks that dictate how devices can be sold or distributed. Although this is more of an operational necessity than a direct purpose, it still influences the practice of SIM locking.

For consumers, while the immediate notion is that SIM locking limits their freedom to switch carriers, it also allows access to more affordable devices and exclusive deals that might not be available otherwise. However, the global trend is moving towards more consumer-friendly policies, including easier processes for unlocking devices after certain conditions are met, reflecting a balance between carrier needs and consumer rights.

What Does it Mean When a Phone is Unlocked?

It is just the opposite of what we explained in the above part. Since SIM locking is added as a smartphone restriction to prevent it from being used on other networks, it can cause many drawbacks. Thus, service providers decided to offer an official SIM unlocking option. As a result, any locked SIM can be unlocked easily, and if a device is opened, it can be used as a regular cell phone and can be used with any SIM card per the user’s choice.

So, if you are using a Simlock-enabled handset and wish to remove the SIM lock on your iPhone or Android device, you can now do so officially without any third-party software or tools. We will tell you how to remove the SIM lock on AT&T, T Mobile, and Verizon networks.

Why SIM Unlocking is Important and the Benefits of Removing SIM Lock

As we said above, a SIM lock enables a service provider to prevent their customer from using the smartphone with other service providers’ SIM cards. This ensures each provider that the device is only used with the initial SIM card. However, this locking also creates many disadvantages because it is not compatible with any other SIM card.

  1. The handset cannot be used with other SIM cards if the SIM lock is enabled. Customers must stick to the existing plan.
  2. If someone wishes to sell or gift the handset, it is impossible as no one prefers to buy a locked one.
  3. If you are holding a SIM-locked mobile and traveling to another country, you may face some issues, as you can’t insert a local SIM card on your device during your journey.

If you remove the SIM lock, all the issues can be resolved and used as a standard SIM in any country.

How to Unlock SIM Card

Unlocking SIM cards is a common question related to locked SIM cards. Once the service contract is completed, the SIM card lock can be removed using the unlock code obtained from the service provider.

How to Remove SIM Lock

You can remove the SIM lock on AT&T, T-Mobile, US Cellular, and Verizon networks. If you find it tricky to do it yourself, you could opt for a reputable service from a provider like Mobile Unlocked US, but there are many options.

Unlock SIM Card on AT&T

Unlock on AT&T is a common question. Many users ask what the steps are for unlocking their devices. If your AT&T unlock status is disabled, you can unlock it by visiting the official website. Before proceeding, you must note the IMEI number by dialing *#06#. Then, proceed to the official website and provide some basic details, including your AT&T mobile number and some related account information,Β to unlock your AT&T mobile phone.

SIM Unlock on T-Mobile Network

If you are a T-Mobile user with an Android device, you can unlock the mobile from the Network Setting area. Go to Settings, Network Settings, and click on the Unlock option. Make sure your device is listed among the eligible handsets to unlock.

Unlocking the iPhone can only be done by submitting the request, and T-Mobile will do it for you.

Remove SIM Lock on US Cellular

US Cellular has an extended lock period for the locked device. If you purchase a new iPhone or Samsung device from USCellular, the default lock period is 120 days, and you can only unlock the device after 120 days.

Unlock Verizon Smartphones

Verizon Mobile offers an auto-unlock feature for all its phones. If you purchase a prepaid or postpaid Verizon mobile, the device will be locked for 60 days from activation. After the 60-day lock period, the phone will automatically be unlocked. After that, the sim never locks again, and you can use it without restriction.

Verizon offers relaxation in 60 days if you are a military person. You can request to unlock the SIM lock anytime, and Verizon will do it for you.

Is SIM Unlocking Safe?

SIM unlocking is entirely safe. It is not like rooting the device. Locked devices have some restrictions embedded by the service provider. If the lock is removed, you can use the device anywhere. So, there is no security issue with SIM-unlocked handsets.

How to Remove SIM Lock on iPhone

You can remove the SIM lock on your iPhone by disabling the SIM PIN. First, open the Settings app and tap the Mobile Data option. Then, tap the SIM PIN option from the Mobile Data section.

Disable the SIM PIN option from the SIM PIN section, and the SIM PIN will be removed for the active SIM Card on your iPhone.

How to get the SIM Unlock Code

The mobile service provider can collect the SIM Lock Code or the SIM PIN. So, you need to contact the customer support of your respective mobile service provider and request that they issue the SIM Unlock code. First, however, they will verify the mobile number ownership by asking a few questions, and the code will be shared upon validation.

Is it Safe to Purchase a SIM-Locked Phone?

Even though the SIM lock can be removed, it is recommended not to buy a SIM-locked phone. If you get an unlocked phone, there won’t be an issue. However, if you get a SIM-locked phone, you may find it challenging to unlock it easily.

What does a locked iPhone mean?

Since the iPhone is the most popular phone for most smartphone users, we can see people searching for cheap iPhones. And while looking for a budget iPhone, we can see SIM-locked iPhones at low prices. Here, the question is what a SIM-locked iPhone means, and many users ask what a SIM-locked iPhone means. Those are carrier-locked iPhones that are exclusive to some regions and networks. Those iPhones cannot be used outside that particular country without unlocking.

Can I Purchase a locked iPhone?

It is always recommended not to buy a SIM-locked iPhone. However, if you received a sim-locked iPhone and wish to use it with another network, you can visit any authorized iPhone store to get it fixed and unlocked. As said, make sure to buy SIM unlocked iPhone if you will buy a used iPhone.

My iPhone 14 Doesn’t Have a Physical SIM Card. How to Unlock iPhone 14

Apple removed physical SIM support on iPhone 14 in the United States. iPhone 14 users in the United States must use eSIM instead of a standard physical SIM card. However, the carrier does the iPhone SIM Lock and Unlock, as before. To unlock the iPhone 14, you need to contact your carrier and obtain the unlock code to remove the SIM lock on the iPhone 14 completely.

Can the eSIM Prevent the SIM Lock Issue?

Both standard and eSIM have the same options and work as per carrier support. With a standard SIM, you will get a physical SIM, and with an eSIM, you can’t see it. It is virtual. That is the only difference; hence, you can’t prevent the SIM Lock Issue using an eSIM in Place of a standard SIM Card.

Is it Legally Safe to Buy Unlocked Smartphones?

It is legal and safe to purchase an unlocked smartphone from an official website or a shop. However, never buy locked and unlocked smartphones from untrusted websites or persons. Sometimes, the product you buy might come from the black market, and you may find it difficult to use it in the future. So, always purchase unlocked and locked smartphones from trusted sellers.

How do you unlock a SIM card on an iPhone?

Unlock SIM cards on iPhones are also the same as other phones. However, on a contract basis, iPhones are released in most countries, like the United States, with network providers like AT&T, Sprint, etc. As a part of the plan, customers won’t have to pay the total amount of the brand-new iPhone initially. They can opt for any service plan with a fixed EMI with service benefits, including Calls, SMS, data, etc. So, with the contract, the iPhones can be purchased on an EMI basis, and customers can enjoy carrier service, too.

If the contract and the EMI period is 2 or 3 years, you need to stay on the same service provider with the same plan, and once the contract is finished, you can collect the unlock code from the service provider to use the phone with any other SIM Card. Alternatively, you can terminate the contract by paying the remaining amount and then collect the SIM Unlock Code