February, 2015 all five of the US’ major cell carriers new device unlocking policies will, hopefully, make it easier for customers to free their phones and tablets from being chained to one network.
Android Central reports that the new unlocking standards began on February 11, 2015 and follow guidelines set by the wireless industry association CTIA. Customers will still have to pay off their devices in order to get an unlock, but overall the new procedures are an improvement on the heavy restrictions previously enforced by carriers.
New Rules for Carriers
The article states that the new policy will apply to Verizon Wireless, AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile and U.S. Cellular. For postpaid devices, you’ll need to have paid off your tablet or phone completely to qualify for an unlocking; or, if your device is on a subsidized plan, you’ll need to have fulfilled your service contract.
If you have a prepaid device, you can receive an unlock a year after activation, provided you’ve fully paid for your phone or tablet. Both postpaid and prepaid customers must also have an account in good standing (so no overdue bills), and devices can’t be reported as lost or stolen. As well as denying unlock requests for phones flagged as missing, carriers can also refuse to unlock devices connected to fraudulent activity.
If you’re in the military and headed overseas, you can have your device unlocked without needing to pay it off in full, provided you can present your carrier with your deployment orders. For all customers, your current carrier must unlock your device free of charge if all these conditions are met, although non-customers may be asked to pay a ‘reasonable’ fee.
MSL vs. DSU: two ways to unlock
The next change is that there will be two separate unlocking procedures, depending on when you purchase your device. All devices launched or made prior to February this year are considered a Master Subsidy Lock (MSU) device and can be unlocked with a code provided by your cell carrier.
Domestic SIM Unlock-capable (DSU) devices will be available from February onward and can be network unlocked via an over-the-air command. At this point, it’s likely that devices in this category will unlock automatically when they become eligible – Sprint has confirmed that this will be its future policy for all DSU gadgets.
Free at last – kind of
What this means for customers is that as soon as your tablet or smartphone is unlocked, you’re free to take it to any carrier, domestic or international, provided your device is compatible with that provider’s network frequencies. Most LTE devices in the US can switch between carriers easily, with the exception of handsets going to, or from, Sprint.
The policy changes mean Americans will finally have the same access to unlocking that tech users in other countries have enjoyed for years, without the carrier run-around.
While it’s not perfect, and differences in carrier technologies mean not every device can be used on every network, it’s a definite improvement over the old system, which made customers jump through hoops in order to switch their cell service without switching devices.