After talking with family and friends, you may realize you’re paying way too much for your mobile phone service and decide to give your carrier a call.
They assure you that the price for the plan you’re on is the best they can offer. So you decide to take your business elsewhere since you’ve done your homework and found that other carriers cost less, including a crop of new mobile virtual network operators (MVNOs) undercutting many of the big guys — with comparable call quality, coverage and data speeds.
But is your phone unlocked so you have the freedom to go to another company? Or will you have to shell out big bucks for a new device?
Other reasons to figure out whether your phone is unlocked: You’re ready to take that bucket list trip to Europe and want to rent a SIM card while you’re there since it likely will be much cheaper than roaming charges overseas with your existing carrier. Or perhaps you've purchased a new phone and want to make sure your old one is unlocked to sell it.
Here’s how to determine if your phone is unlocked and how to request that it be unlocked with your carrier. The answers vary by what kind of phone you have and which carrier you’re with.
Carriers used to have two standards. Verizon used CDMA, which stands for code division multiple access, while AT&T and T-Mobile used GSM, Global System for Mobiles.
But most phones manufactured after 2010 are “dual band” and have been able to operate on either network as mobile phone companies built up their 4G LTE networks. Carriers will be shutting down both their CDMA and GSM networks at various times in 2022 because they are 3G bands, so be aware that at some time during the next year you'll stop being able to use any CDMA- or GSM-only phone.
How to tell if your phone is unlocked
If you purchased your phone without a SIM card — say, directly from the manufacturer or a big box store rather than on a contract or from a phone retailer — it’s probably unlocked already. Unlocked phones are more common than they used to be, but if you’re not sure, here’s what to do:
The easiest way to tell is to pop in a SIM card from another carrier to see if you can make a call.