Corin Anderson (magellanic) wrote,
Corin Anderson

Unlocked phone

I bought a new cell phone a few weeks ago, mostly because I wanted a phone that could pair with my car (my car's stereo doubles as a bluetooth headset). A feature my old and new phones have in common is that they both are "world phones" -- they can use the GSM network outside of North America (as well as the domestic network, of course). Only catch is, if you use your domestic SIM card when traveling, phone calls are about $1/minute (although, I managed to get free calls in Scotland last spring, but that's a different matter). The smart way to travel is to buy a pre-paid SIM card when you arrive in your destination. You'll get a local phone number and be able to make calls at a decent price. Your US-based number won't ring your phone while the SIM card's swapped out, but if you mostly place calls (or can easily tell whomever needs to reach you what your local number is) then this is a good plan.

Only trouble is, most phones sold in the US come "locked" to the carrier which sold them to you. Case in point: the phone I bought two years ago, and the phone I bought two weeks ago, are both locked (by AT&T Wireless and Cingular, respectively). As locked phones these handsets will respond only to the SIM cards the companies provide. You can unlock the phone, and it's not all that hard (just key in a secret number based on the handset's unique serial number), but doing so usually will void your warranty. Plus, the US carriers don't seem eager to encourage this effort.

But when time is on your side great things are easy. I'm not traveling soon so I could easily afford waiting the week for an unlock code. I called Cingular, read them the IMEA number from the back of my old handset, and they said they'd e-mail me in about a week with an unlock code. Goodness only knows why it took a week to prepare this code, it's not like it's a magic spell that needed to be researched. But no big deal. Last week I got the unlock code and today I followed the directions to unlock the phone. Carefully, too; the directions said that, if I tried but failed to unlock the phone 5 times in a row, the phone would be permanently locked to the carrier. Great, permanently locked to a defunct wireless provider (AT&T Wireless). No worries, though; I got it right the first time. My old handset now happily accepts my new SIM card; I now effectively have two different cell phones (though only one SIM card). Handily, these phones also share accessories (they're both LG handsets). And, most importantly, I can use my old handset with foreign SIM cards. When I travel abroad, I'll take that handset, buy a pre-paid card from a local vendor, and enjoy having a nice handset that I know how to work.
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