Unlocked Cell Phones Product Guide

Unlocked Cell Phones

Some people see locks as impairments, but these same locks may offer protection from unknown predators. Unlocked is associated with ultimate freedom and greater sense of independent power. Cell phone owners have a choice of using locked or unlocked phones. Some prefer one to the other. Here's an overview of both locked and unlocked cell phones.

Locked vs. Unlocked

Many of the cell phones sold in the USA are locked phones. AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile, Sprint, Metro PCS, Boost, and several others market these. Buying a locked phone means you usually need to file a service contract with one of these carriers. The disadvantages are that you are limited only to the phones the carrier markets and are subject to penalties, if you choose to leave before your contract expires. Advantages are phones may be discounted because you're binding yourself to that carrier by contract and usually the carrier's agents provide some support for that phone.

While binding to a carrier in the United States might be a good thing, use when travelling around the world may be more costly. In addition, at the end of your contract, the locked phone will only be able to work with that specific carrier.

Unlocked phones are not manufactured with the necessary intention for sale to the United States. Many of these phones are distributed for use in different parts of the world. This means that operating systems and features may vary. Unlocked phones may cost a bit more than locked phones but unlocked phones offers degrees of freedom:

  1. You aren't bound to any particular service carrier.
  2. You can select practically any phone you want from around the world. You can choose among thousands of phones instead of dozens.
  3. These phones are designed for use in any part of the world where cell service is offered.

A drawback to unlocked cell phones is that it may result in you being unable to take advantage of certain features offered by a cellular service provider. For example, many cellular service providers install exclusive software on the cell phones that they sell directly to their customers, and if you purchase an unlocked cell phone, you will not have access to this software on your cell phone. Nonetheless, you still can arrange to use T-Mobile or AT&T, without a contract, to access their proprietary services.

Locked cell phones may be sold with a limited warranty. The service carrier may also offer the option of buying a service contract that may also cover possible damage from phone drops and loss. Unlocked phones, sold in the United States, generally (with few exceptions) have no manufacturer's warranty but may be covered by a seller's policy.

What do you do with a locked phone after your contract is finished and you want to upgrade to new technology? Many areas have rules about cell phone disposal. An advantage of buying an unlocked phone is that you own it and can give it to someone else or sell it when you are done with it. If you have a nice phone but want to upgrade, there is no reason to simply throw the phone away. If it is unlocked, you can pass it on to your spouse, children, a relative, or a friend. You can also sell it and put the money towards your new unlocked phone. Having a phone that is unlocked is property that offers you values and options.

The locked and unlocked situation deals with phones that are GSM compatible, having to do with global mobility. Locked phones are very popular in the United States because of all the available competing carriers covering the span of United States. In Europe, Asia, South America, and Africa, there are fewer carriers and plans/standards vary from one country to the next. So locked phones offer some advantages to USA residents but unlocked phones dominate the rest of the world. Locked phones that are used with GSM carriers may be used globally but unlocked phones offer some economic and feature advantages,


While AT&T and T-Mobile are GSM carriers, they use locked phones. Sprint, Verizon, and other carriers that are locked do not use GSM. The GSM is a network system that allows worldwide use of a cell phone.

Some problems of using AT&T or T-Mobile as carriers if you plan on international travel is that, since these are USA based, your agreements may be more expensive when you use these. If you plan to be visiting a country for a longer time, it may be more affordable to open a subscription to a carrier there. You can't do that with a locked phone but you can do it if your phone is unlocked.

GSM (Global System for Mobile Communications) leads the world as the fastest growing, most reliable and advanced digital technology available in the marketplace today. GSM provides integrated voice mail, high-speed data, fax; paging and short message services capabilities. GSM customers enjoy secure communications, and GSM offers unparalleled call privacy and fraud prevention. As members of the GSM Global Network, GSM subscribers can use their phones at home, across town, across the continent, or around the world (except for with country specific SIM cards). GSM operates on the multiple spectrum frequency bands used around the world - 1900MHZ, which is used in North America and 900MHz and 1800 MHz for other locations. Different mobile phone networks operate at different frequencies, which means that if you wish to use your mobile phone outside your home country, you generally need a handset that supports multiple frequency bands. Make sure that the cellular phone you are interested in is compatible with the GSM band of the country you will use it in.

The most versatile GSM phone is one that is compatible to all four GSM bands, often referred as quad-band GSM.

A quad-band phone allows you to roam almost anywhere globally. It covers the 850 MHz, 900 MHz, 1800 MHz and 1900 MHz frequency ranges. Many countries in South America only have 850 MHz GSM service while both 1900 MHZ and 850 MHz GSM services are supported in the USA. 99% of all countries use the GSM standard.

Available statistics indicate there are more than 3 billion users of GSM. There are more than 700 GSM mobile networks across 213 countries and comprise of 82.4% of all global mobile connections. The numbers are increasing each month.

Since GSM phones are originally intended for Europe, Africa, South America and Asia markets, most do not include English language manuals. English language manuals may sometimes be downloaded from the manufacturers' web sites.

SIM Card

The freedom of an unlocked phone is associated with a little electronic chip that slides into each GSM cell phone. It's a SIM card.

The SIM (Subscriber Information Module) card holds all of your personal information and phone settings. In essence, it is the subscriber's authorization to use the network. It also holds the phone number, personal security key and other data necessary for the handset to function. The card can be switched from phone to phone, making the new phone receive all calls to the subscriber's number that is programmed to the SIM.

Switching from one GSM phone to a new GSM phone is easy. Remove the SIM card from your current cell phone (usually located near the battery) and insert it into the new phone. Turn the new phone on (make sure the phone is charged). Your new phone will now send and receive phone calls with your original phone number. There is no reason to call your carrier.

Language Issues

Language is the means of getting an idea from your brain into another's without surgery. It's about communicating effectively and is associated with control. There are many different languages and one's ability to control is dependent on one's familiarity with a language. That is why many electronic devices, from computers to phones to televisions offer menus in different languages. In the United States, most menus allow selection among English, Spanish, and French. In most world areas, English is always an available option but the menu may also include other Asian languages.

The ability to change the language on your cellular phone can be a very useful tool. Whether you are in a different country, are learning a new language, or speak a language different than the one on your phone, changing the language on your cell phone is a simple and useful trick to know.

Virtually each available cell phone has a "Settings" option on their menu. My Samsung phone, for example, allows me to set the phone for French, English, or Spanish. If I change the language setting, the instructions also convert to that language. With few exceptions, most cellular phones follow a certain logical sequence when it comes to selecting a language. Here it is:

  1. Turn your phone on, and press the menu button to begin viewing the menu options of your phone.
  2. Scroll through the menu options of your phone until you come to a settings option. Every cell phone has a different basic set up, but they all have "settings" areas, where the basic phone settings are located. One you have found the settings option, select it. The settings option will open a list of basic cell phone functions that you can select. My phone, for example, has 7 different Setting options to select from. One of them includes a subset of languages.
  3. Look for the option under settings that says system, display, display info, or language, and choose it. Whichever of these options your cell phone has, the outcome will be the same, so don't be discouraged if your cell phone has a slightly different set up than other cell phones.
  4. Choose your desired cell phone language from the list and choose it. Complete the selection process.
  5. Turn your phone off and then back on again, just to ensure that the new language change did take effect, and will remain. Your language settings should now be changed, and you should be viewing all functions of your cell phone in your newly chosen language.

Because many unlocked phones are sourced from various different corners of the world, there are some phones that may have been intended for Asian markets. They might have Arabic or Chinese languages and key entries. These are rare but possible.

Changing language from a menu follows the same procedure but you'd need to follow prompts from an unknown language. In some cases, you may need a similar phone as a reference to change the language or you may download the information from the phone manufacturer's global website.

In rare instances, there are customers that want to add other languages to the phone's selection menu. Some phones that have USB ports may allow such transfer. Unfortunately, manufacturers may nullify any service agreements if phone was tampered this way.

Unlocking a Locked Cell Phone

There are those who consider the process of unlocking a locked cell phone.

The Internet and YouTube offer many assets that discuss and demonstrate how simple it is to unlock a locked cell phone. Of these, most are not dependable.

Some claim that you can unlock the phone yourself by entering a code. This code is a secret number created specifically for a particular phone. Some companies, however, need to be unlocked by rewriting some of the firmware. Unfortunately, the cellular phones often don't work properly after the software or hardware has been tampered with, so occasionally this is of little help.

The carriers that employ locked phones often upgrade their technologies to thwart any attempts at unlocking the lock. Some locks are placed in the circuit boards themselves. If a manufacturer like LG, Samsung, or Motorola manufactures a phone for use by T-Mobile, AT&T or another carrier, it is very likely that some lock was integrated into that design.

It is nearly impossible to unlock a locked phone. In rare cases, it may seem feasible to unlock the phone but there may be some electronic virus that makes the phone inoperable after a period of time.

Any possibility of unlocking a locked cell phone should be considered at your own risk. Carriers and manufacturers would not accept a return of a phone that was tampered in this way.


Some unlocked cell phones come with USA power adapters for recharging batteries. A significant majority (because they're designed for use outside of the USA) comes with chargers for a 220 Volt AC outlet. 220V AC outlets have a variety of plug options. This is why it is recommended to buy a plug adapter kit.


One reason unlocked phones aren't more common in the U.S. is that the freedom they provide comes at a price. For example, T-Mobile offers the Samsung Vibrant Android phone for as little as $199 (locked) with a two-year contract. An unlocked version of the Samsung Vibrant may be found for around $600.00.

As a wise consumer, you observe a $400 savings but that savings comes at a price of being locked into a contract with a USA cell phone service carrier.

If you travel or want to give the phone to a friend or relative by switching SIM cards, the T-Moble arrangement would be more expensive to use and impossible to transfer in the long run. The unlocked version would actually be the best buy for you.

Certain carriers offer additional service perks, like "my faves" and special feature websites. These services may not be available from other carriers. The plus side is you still can use T-Mobile or AT&T if you want but don't have to resign yourself to a contract or specific term of service. That way you can have your perks and enjoy them without being locked to them.

Locked phones are traditional for use in a few countries like the United States. Most of the world uses Unlocked phones. Certain operating standards, language menus, and features may be different on unlocked phones because they are designed for a wider global market.

If you intend to take a global approach, an Unlocked phone may not be as user-friendly initially but, overall, will serve you better as your needs evolve and change over time. That makes an unlocked phone the best choice for you.

Glossary for Unlocked Cell Phones


Email Management Services used on wireless devices including cell phones


GPRS - Short for General Packet Radio Service, a standard for wireless communications which runs at speeds up to 115 kilobits per second, compared with current GSM (Global System for Mobile Communications) systems' 9.6 kilobits. It supports a wide range of bandwidths, is an efficient use of limited bandwidth and is particularly suited for sending and receiving small bursts of data, such as e-mail and Web browsing, as well as large volumes of data


Multimedia Message Service, a store-and-forward method of transmitting graphics, video clips, sound files and short text messages over wireless networks using the WAP (Wireless Access Protocol) via WiFi and Cell-Phone technologies


The Short Message Service (SMS) is the ability to send and receive text messages to and from mobile telephones - or Texting. The text can comprise of words or numbers or an alphanumeric combination. SMS was created as part of the GSM Phase 1 standard. Each short message is up to 160 characters is length when Latin alphabets are used, and 70 characters in length when non-Latin alphabets such as Arabic and Chinese are used

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