Verizon, AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile and others now fully embrace cell phone unlocking rules

As part of an agreement between the CTIA and FCC, the nation's largest U.S. wireless carriers agreed to let customers who have fulfilled their contracts unlock their phones and tablets and move to another carrier.

Verizon Wireless (NYSE: VZ), AT&T Mobility (NYSE: T), Sprint (NYSE: S), T-Mobile US (NYSE:TMUS) and U.S. Cellular (NYSE:USM) all agreed to fully implement the rules as of yesterday. Under a December 2013 agreement that changed the terms of CTIA's Consumer Code, the carriers were required to follow three of six phone-unlocking principles by May 11, 2014 and all of them by Feb. 11. Bluegrass Cellular and Cellcom also signed on to the code, but do not lock their devices, according to The Next Web. The new rules also cover cellular tablets.

For years, carriers have locked phones to their networks to make it more difficult for customers to switch carriers. Under the new rules, carriers must clearly explain their policies on unlocking. Once postpaid customers finish their service contracts on postpaid plans, carriers must--upon request--unlock customers' phones within two business days. In terms of prepaid phones, carriers, upon request, must unlock prepaid phones no later than one year after activation. Carriers can also charge non-customers a "reasonable" fee to unlock phones.

The FCC notes that carriers must notify postpaid customers when their devices are eligible for unlocking, but prepaid customers must only be told at the time they purchase their phone. Carriers must also unlock the phones of military personnel who are deployed.

President Barack Obama signed a law last August that made it legal for mobile customers to unlock their phones. Unlocking a phone lets it work on any compatible network, regardless of carrier.

An unlocked phone can be moved to another network, though that does not mean that it will work exactly the same way on another network due to differences in the spectrum bands used by carriers and the corresponding radios and chipsets in devices. Many of the newest modern smartphones include support for radios that will work on multiple carriers' LTE networks, though not all phones support those bands.

Here are the unlocking information pages of VerizonAT&TSprintT-Mobile and U.S. Cellular.

For more:
- see this The Next Web article
- see this Ars Technica article
- see this GigaOM article
- see this PCMag article

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