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How to Unlock a Cell Phone


Unlocking a cell phone in the United States has become a major issue for consumers and cellular service carriers. Consumers want their phones unlocked, while service carriers want to keep them locked. The main question remains, “Is unlocking a cell phone legal, and if so, how is it done?”

Reasons to Unlock

For consumers, unlocking cell phones will allow more choices of service providers, or allow a favorite phone to be retained when changing providers. An increase in software application options may result from unlocking some phones. Unlocked phones also permit a person to use a cell phone in foreign countries, at less expense.

Reasons to Lock

Some service providers offer cell phones at highly discounted prices in exchange for a long term service contract. The provider locks the phone to ensure the contract will be carried out full term. Smartphone providers lock the phones into their networks and only permit certain pre-approved third party applications to be installed. They claim the lock is for quality control purposes.


The legality of unlocking cell phones is quite confusing, even to Supreme Court judges and attorneys. This is mainly due to an exception to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA). In 2006, an exception was put into effect, which made it legal to unlock cell phones.

The exception was due to expire in November 2009, and unless the exception is renewed, it will again be illegal to unlock cell phones. However, the majority of service providers usually do not bring law suits against individuals who unlock their phones. They may simply cancel service, warranty, or possibly charge a fee for ending the contract early.

How to Unlock a Cell Phone

There are a variety of methods used to unlock cell phones. The method chosen mostly depends on the type and model of the phone. Expense, convenience, and service provider, may be other determining factors.

The easiest way to have a phone unlocked is to ask the service provider to unlock it. For most GSM models, simply entering a specific code or changing the Serial Identification Memory card (SIM) will suffice. For more complex phones, special devices are needed. In most cases, these phones will need to be unlocked by the service provider or a third party service. Most Smartphone models and other CDMA models may not be unlocked.



Haskin, David. “Joys of Unlocked Cell Phones – PCWorld.” Reviews and News on Tech Products, Software and Downloads – PCWorld. N.p., n.d. Web. 11 Dec. 2010.

“U.S. Copyright Office – Online Service Providers.” U.S. Copyright Office. N.p., n.d. Web. 11 Dec. 2010.

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