by Kevin P. McGrath
Unlocked cell phones open up a world of possibilities. While the expense of certain unlocked cell phones can be higher, they also have advantages for future savings and expanded uses when traveling. Here are the facts you should know before buying an unlocked cell phone.
How unlocked cell phones are different: Typically, a new cell phone is purchased under a contract and in conjunction with a particular cell phone carrier, such as AT&T, Verizon, or Sprint. These phones are locked in to only work with a particular company?s cellular network. An unlocked cell phone, on the other hand, comes free of any contract or network restriction. You will be able to use your unlocked cell phone with any compatible cellular network or carrier.
How an unlocked cell phone can save you money: Even though an unlocked cell phone might cost more up front, you avoid being tied down to a particular company or contract. Typically, with an unlocked phone, you will have access to lower priced monthly plans, which includes prepaid plans that do not require any contracts.
Why frequent international travelers may want one: Unlocked cell phones also make it easy to switch from carrier to carrier depending on your location. Purchasing a SIM card with a prepaid plan once you arrive to a new location can help you save hundreds, or even thousands, of dollars in roaming or out of network fees when traveling abroad. Likewise, in certain countries, your particular cell phone company may not even have access to local cellular networks.
Choose an unlocked cell phone by the network you want to use: There are two major cellular network types used throughout the world: GSM and CDMA. AT&T and T-Mobile, for example, operate on the GSM network while Verizon and Sprint operate on the CDMA network. Most cell phones will be compatible with one or the other, but some cell phones are built to work with either. The quickest and easiest way to identify the differences between these types of cell phones is the SIM card. Unlocked GSM cell phones will have a SIM card slot, so you can switch out or replace your SIM card at any time, while CDMA cell phones do not use SIM cards or have SIM card slots. For frequent world travelers, a dual GSM/CDMA unlocked phone should be considered. This allows you to switch out SIM cards or change CDMA networks as needed.
What you need to know about frequency bands: Additionally, GSM networks in different countries work using different Frequency Bands. Not all unlocked cell phones will work on all frequencies. Be sure to consider where you will be using your cell phone and the corresponding frequencies which will be needed before buying.
|Cell Phone Bands||Frequencies Used||Accessible Locations|
|Dual Band||900 MHz, 1800 MHz||Africa, Asia, Australia, Europe, New Zealand, and South America|
|Tri Band||900 MHz, 1800 MHz, 1900 MHz||Africa, Asia, Australia, Europe, North America, and New Zealand|
|Quad Band||900 MHz, 1800 MHz, 1900 MHz, 850 MHz||All countries with GSM Networks|
How to start using a GSM unlocked phone: For GSM network phones, you will simply need an activated SIM card to get your unlocked phone working. Power off your cell phone, insert the new SIM card, and power your phone back on. Your phone will automatically recognize the corresponding carrier and plan that will be associated with the SIM card, this will include you voice, data, and texting plans.
How to start using a CDMA phone: CDMA phones are not as easily switched between carriers or networks. To change setting on an unlocked CDMA phone, you will need to plug your phone into a flasher or unlocker. These devices will store information in your phone that will be needed to access a specific network or carrier infrastructure.