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FAQs about Unlocked Cell Phones

by Paul Sanders

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Beautiful woman using a pink unlocked cell phone

You don't need to be locked into a cellular contract with a specific carrier if you don't want to. If you want the flexibility to change carriers without changing your phone, an unlocked cell phone may be the best choice for you. Here are some frequently asked questions to help you get familiar with unlocked cell phones and the terminology that goes along with them.

About Unlocked Cell Phones:

  1. What does having an unlocked cell phone mean?
    When a cell phone is "locked," it can only be used on the cellular carrier that sold you the phone. An unlocked cell phone can be used on any network that is compatible with the phone's wireless technology, such as GSM and CDMA networks. In some countries, cellular providers are required to unlock your cell phone after your contract expires. Of course, you can buy unlocked cell phones to begin with and then activate them with the wireless carrier of your choice.

  2. What's the difference between CDMA and GSM cell phones?
    CDMA and GSM are competing network technologies. Most cellular carriers use one or the other. GSM phones use interchangeable subscriber identity module (SIM) cards that identify each phone with a specific user or phone number. If you want to change phones, you can simply install your SIM card in a new phone. Unlocked cell phones will accept SIM cards from other carriers. CDMA cell phones don't use SIM cards, so an unlocked CDMA cell phone has to be programmed to work with each carrier you use.

  3. Can I unlock a cell phone myself?
    It is possible, but not recommended. An improperly unlocked cell phone could become unusable. It is usually safest to buy an unlocked cell phone outright or wait for your contract to expire and have your wireless carrier do it for you.

  4. How do I know if my unlocked cell phone will work?
    Before you decide on an unlocked cell phone, you may want to decide which network you want to use with it. Then you can check the phone requirements for that carrier and whether the models you're considering are compatible.

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