Cell phones available in the market can be either of the two types – locked and unlocked. So, what is the difference between a locked cellphone and an unlocked cellphone, and how is the locking/unlocking done?
A locked cellphone is is provided by a particular carrier, and the SIM of the mobile phone can only be activated by that service provider. A locked cell phone cannot be used on the network of any other service carrier. They often come as a part of comprehensive package with additional benefits, and the models are frequently priced lower than their normal retail price. For example, a cell phone purchased at a Vodafone store as a part of any Vodafone calling plan will be a locked cell phone, and will be usable only on the Vodafone network. Therefore, if you switch to another service provider, say, Airtel, this locked mobile phone will not work, and you will be required to purchase a new handset.
Suppose you bought a Vodafone plan, with a sleek handset two months back. But now, you realize that most of your friends and colleagues are using Airtel, and it would be much cheaper for you if you switch to an Airtel plan. Besides, for some reason, the Airtel network reception is better in your area. So what do you do? You will have to unlock the phone.
An unlocked cell phone can be freely used with any carrier. You can switch between different service providers, simply by changing the SIM card in your phone. Or you can just purchase an unlocked mobile phone at a store, and start using it with any carrier of your choice. Therefore, an unlocked cell phone means a greater freedom of choice.
How To Unlock a Mobile Phone -
Before proceeding, let us understand a few facts about locking a cell phone. A cell phone is locked by ‘attaching’ a particular SIM to a particular handset through its IMEI number. This means that the SIM will work only when it identifies the IMEI number of that handset, and will not work on any other handset. This is done by a small code. This means that if you get the code, you can unlock the phone.
The unlocking can be done in two ways – either by tinkering with the hardware, or by working on the software of he phone. The first option, that is, tinkering with the innards of the handset is very difficult, and will probably need advanced knowledge of electronics engineering. The second option – software adjustment is much easier, and can be done easily via a computer.
Software unlocking can also be done in two ways – either with the carrier’s consent, or without it. A number of carriers provide this choice to their customers, by providing the unlock code on customer request. But I am not aware if the carriers in India provide this service – I don’t think they do. This means that you have to turn to your friendly neighborhood ‘mobile repair shop’, which will charge a very small fees, and will do the job in a few minutes. But be warned, this is a grey area, and you might be violating the terms of contract with your carrier, even making you liable to legal action.
Another important point to remember is that GSM phone can be unlocked, but the phones that work on CDMA platform cannot be unlocked. This is due to the underlying technologies used by the two platforms. That means that your Reliance or Tata Indicom phones will work only on their respective networks, and cannot be unlocked. (Note – I cannot confirm it, but there are reports of some typical Indian ingenuity or jugaad that might work in this regard. Some preliminary inquiry at the neighborhood mobile shop reveals that CDMA phones can also be unlocked, though I could not get any one who was actually doing it. Legality of this is obviously questionable)
Smartphones, such as iPhones and Blackberries are essentially handheld computers, with the additional facility of making mobile calls on the handsets. More often than not, they are locked at two different levels – first, by the manufacturer, and second, by the mobile service provider. The locking by manufacturers is done to ensure that only approved applications can run on the handset. For example, iPhone can run applications provided by App Store ONLY. This implies that unlocking an smartphone is much more involved, and difficult exercise. The process of unlocking an iPhone is also called “jailbreaking“. This will probably give you an idea of its legality!!
Disclaimer – This article is for informative purpose only, and does not suggest or support illegal unlocking of cellphones. Readers are advised to exercise due reasoning.