Should you worry if your phone is unlocked?

There’s a great article that we reprinted from the weBoost Blog called, How to Check if Your Cell Phone is Unlocked. It goes through the many steps you’ll need to take to determine whether or not your phone is unlocked. It’s a little bit of a hassle with an Android phone but with an iPhone it’s a full-on pain in the neck. So, I’ll ask the question you’ll be asking… does it really matter?

What does “unlocked” even mean?

In order to understand the idea of a carrier-locked phone, you have to first go back in time a few years. Remember when cell providers always gave you a free phone? Often times it was a pretty good one too. You could get a very decent phone for free, and if you were willing to pay just $200-300, you could go top-of-the-line. Today of course you’ll pay north of $1,200 for that new iPhone Pro if you want one. There are still deals to be had today but they are harder to find. (Luckily Solid Signal can help you out there.) It’s not that phones have gotten so much more expensive. They’ve gotten a bit more expensive, but the big change is that carriers just stopped giving them away at reduced prices.

Not long ago, practically everyone signed a two-year contract for cell service. Because they knew they would have a steady income stream for 24 months, carriers could discount their hardware. They made up the extra cost on the back end.

In order to make extra sure you wouldn’t bolt with that free phone, nearly every carrier put software on their phones so that they would only work with that carrier. This was called “carrier locking.” In addition to this lock, they also often put on apps you couldn’t delete. Some of these were useful, some not so much.

Getting your phone unlocked

In 2015 the government ruled that while locking phones was still legal, that carriers had to unlock phones upon request, as long as the person asking was the legal owner. It’s also legal for you to do it yourself, and there are a number of Android apps to make that happen.

Here’s why it matters

Really you only care about an unlocked phone in one of two cases. First of all, you might be thinking of going to a different carrier. None of the big cell companies will stop you, although if you’re on a payment plan they may ask you to pay the phone off before you leave. In order to go to another carrier you will need to unlock the phone or it won’t work. Just changing the SIM won’t do it.

You’ll also get more money for an unlocked phone than a locked one. Sometimes you’ll get a lot more money. I don’t know precisely why this is since unlocking a phone usually takes about three minutes. But if the people who buy phones don’t want the hassle, so be it.

But here’s why you shouldn’t worry

If your phone works, it works. Unless you’re changing carriers, why would you worry about carrier locks? If you really hate those carrier-supplied apps then hide them in a folder or something. Chances are they don’t take up a lot of space and they’re not worth going to the trouble of getting rid of them.

Also, if you’ve paid for a premium phone like the iPhone 11 Pro or Samsung Galaxy S10, it’s unlocked. If you’re paying over $700 for a phone, it’s going to be unlocked. They’re just not sold any other way.

If you do decide to go to another carrier or sell your phone, worry about the unlocking at that point. It’s really not a big deal.

About the Author

Stuart Sweet
Stuart Sweet is the editor-in-chief of The Solid Signal Blog and a "master plumber" at Signal Group, LLC. He is the author of over 8,000 articles and longform tutorials including many posted here. Reach him by clicking on "Contact the Editor" at the bottom of this page.