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What Does It Mean To Unlock A Phone?

If you’ve had a smartphone for any amount of time, you’ve no doubt heard of the term “unlocking” your phone. And we’re not talking about your phone’s passcode to access the home screen — we’re talking about the network unlock code. This is the code that allows you to take your phone on network’s other than your current one.

So if you’re not entirely sure what it means to unlock a phone, or you’re curious how, follow along below and we’ll give you all of the details that you need. So without further ado, here we go!

What does it mean to unlock a phone?

As we already mentioned, “unlocking” a phone isn’t the process of entering your passcode or pattern in order to access your phone or apps. When you purchase a smartphone from, say, AT&T, that phone is locked onto AT&T’s network. That means that you cannot plug a Verizon SIM card into the AT&T phone and use it on Verizon. You can only use it on AT&T because AT&T has that phone locked down to their own network.

Now, there are ways to get around that. All carriers have a process of “unlocking” your device, or in layman’s terms, allowing the device to be used on another network. When a smartphone is “unlocked”, you could then take that AT&T device and use it on Verizon’s network, or the other way around.

It’s particularly helpful during International travel, when you don’t want to pay absurd international prices from your carrier. With your phone unlocked, you can order a temporary package from a local carrier in your destination country, saving you a ton of money.

It can be helpful for moving as well. Maybe where you’re at now, signal strength on AT&T is pretty good, but extremely poor where you’re moving to. So, with the device unlocked, just throw a Verizon SIM inside, and you won’t have to purchase a whole new phone — you can just use your existing, unlocked one, but with a Verizon data package and SIM.

How To Unlock A Phone

Unlocking a phone sounds pretty nice, right? It makes your device more versatile, as well as more valuable since you can use the phone on all types of networks. So, how do you unlock a smartphone exactly? Sometimes it’s easy and other times it isn’t.

The process for unlocking a phone is different from carrier to carrier. For example, AT&T has a Device Unlock Portal where you can enter in some account information or information about the phone you want to unlock, and then AT&T will approve or deny your request. Verizon, on the other hand, keeps all of their SIM-equipped 4G LTE smartphones unlocked so that you don’t have to jump through hoops to use their phones on another network.

T-Mobile actually has their own app for unlocking T-Mobile phones. There are a list of requirements that you have to meet before you can unlock a T-Mobile phone, but they make the process fairly simple. Sprint devices are probably the most difficult to unlock, requiring you to get on the phone with a Customer Service Representative.

As you can see, Verizon is the easiest to unlock a smartphone, as they are already unlocked. The other three carriers require you to put requests in, which can be approved or denied. If you’re denied, the phone stays locked to that carrier’s network. However, there’s still a way to unlock those, and that’s through a third party service.

Unlock Services

A carrier will deny your request for a multitude of reasons. It could be that your installment plan isn’t paid off yet, the device is reported as fraudulent or stolen, or you don’t meet a certain requirement, such as the phone being activated on a carrier’s network for some amount of time. The reasons can be endless; however, even if they deny you, you can still get a code from a third-party unlock service.

You can simply purchase a code from an unlock company, which averages out at around $60, but can also be less. Use a code from one of these companies, and you’ll be unlocked in just a few moments, ready to put the device on any other network.

Make sure you do your research first — you want a company that is reputable, otherwise you might end up handing your money to one in return for, well, nothing. Most reputable companies out there will have a customer service team on standby to assist you with unlocking your phone with their supplied code. Generally, you pay for the code, and it’s sent to your email.


As you can see, unlocking a phone can be really handy, particularly with international travel. It’s worth noting that unlocking a phone isn’t harmful (it shouldn’t be confused with rooting or flashing ROMs), and only increases your phone’s value.

Depending on your carrier, it can be quite a process to get your phone unlocked, but it can be worth it in the end, not requiring you to purchase a new phone for the network that you want to be on.

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