What is an UNLOCKED cell phone?

What is an UNLOCKED cell phone?

In the past cell phones were only available with dedicated service providers.

If you wanted to use Verizon, Sprint, T-Mobile, AT&T, and a host of other cell phone service providers, you had to purchase a phone with that specific service carrier capability built into it.

Today, there are still cell phones that require a specific dedicated service carrier, but many cell phone makers, including Samsung, LG and Apple have finally listened to the outcry of the public, who just want to purchase the phone they like and use it with any service provider they choose.  This has lead to the “UNLOCKED” cell phone.  

Note that there are different degrees of being “Unlocked”

Some cell phones will say, “Unlocked” or “Factory Unlocked”  and will not list any specified carriers, denoting that you can select which carrier you like.

Other cell phones will say “Unlocked” or “Factory Unlocked”, for specific service carriers, such as Sprint CDMA/GSM, Verizon CDMA/GSM, T-Mobile GSM and AT&T GSM. The listed carriers in this case are what you can choose from for service.

There are two basic technologies in mobile phone carries, both of which convert incoming and outgoing communication between individuals into radio waves, but in different ways, being: 

1.) Code Division Multiple Access (CDMA), which in the US are Sprint, Verizon and US Cellular. This technology was designed and patented by Qualcomm and is predominantly used in the US, but Verizon and Sprint CDMA are also available in Russia and South Korea

2.) Global Systems for Mobiles (GSM).   AT&T, T-Mobile and a host of other carriers throughout the world uses GSM.  This is now considered the standard for communication globally, available throughout Europe, Asia and in countries worldwide.

Carrier Coverage:

An important thing to research when considering a carrier is their coverage, whether it is a GSM or CDMA network. Do they have good coverage for your area and areas where you will be calling?  The coverage is determined by the infrastructure the specific carrier has in place.  There is nothing more aggravating than to be in the middle of an important phone call and have your call dropped.  This can also be a serious problem during emergency situations.

In the US, Verizon Wireless, a CDMA network, states that they have the best coverage across the country and contends that they have the highest number of nationwide subscribers.  GSM networks are reportedly much more popular globally.  If you are a person that will be making international calls, you might want to consider using a GSM network.  However, if you are using Verizon, they have support for GSM technology when roaming internationally, so travelers have much less issues with inability to complete calls.

As time moves forward and advancements are made, as in the new 4G and adoption of the LTE as the new standard for a majority of the network carriers, integrations between both networks are being implemented to allow, for example smart phones intended for CDMA networks to also come with SIM card slots, so they can also use the network’s 4G and LTE capabilities. Verizon does not lock their 4G and LTE devices and no code is needed to program them for use with other carriers. 

I hope this information has helped answer some questions you may have.  If you have a comment or question, please leave it below.


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