Sim Free/Gsm Phones Vs. Unlocked Phones}

Submitted by: Pat Munro

There has been a lot of talk about unlocking cell phones over the past couple of years. The purpose of unlocking a cell phone is lost to most people, why on earth would I want to void the warranty of my cell phone and my contract with my provider? Overall, the question of whether or not to unlock your cellular phone can be a bit baffling.

To start to answer this question, lets start with the SIM card. Anyone who has a smartphone, iPod, or blackberry is well versed in the use and application of SIM cards, these cards are the link between your cellular provider and your usage. Over the past few years, however, cell phone users want more access when traveling, or just the freedom to use their phones without restriction from their carriers. To get these advantages one must either unlock their wireless phones or PDAs, or buy a SIM free or GSM phone.

What are SIM free/GSM phones and why would you want one?

SIM free phones are GSM (Global System for Mobile Communications) phones. These phones are sold without a connection to a carrier; they have never been locked to any network. These phones are factory made which cuts down on the problematic unlocking of a contract phone. GSM phones can accept any SIM card associated with a compatible frequency. To simplify, these phones will work anywhere in the world as long as a local area SIM card is used. If you are a traveler, using a GSM phone and purchasing a SIM card for the region you are visiting will undoubtedly cut down on cell phone billing, and provide all access coverage in that area. It is important for users to recognize the compatible frequencies in which the phone will work. The standardization of these frequencies is still in its infancy stage, but users should be able to find the proper frequency compatible to their phone anywhere worldwide.

Unlocking carrier driven wireless phones

Cellular phones users mainly want to unlock their phones to easily be able to use their phones with any SIM card, not just the one from their service provider. To purchase an already unlocked phone can be pricier than a locked phone because the carrier has a guaranteed income with a contract for the locked phone. Alternately, a phone user may choose to unlock their phones themselves with little difficulty. There are thousands of sites leading you through this process online.

Debranded phones are more costly still. Debranding involves special unlocking boxes which remove the operator logo (ie-Motorola, Nokia) on start-up and removes the limitations that the operator imposes on the cellular device. Only a professional can do this with the proper equipment, lending to its price.

What are the laws governing these unlocked cellular options?

In the U.S., there are no laws governing SIM locking. Due to public pressure, the topic has slowly been gaining momentum and providers are allowing for unlocking options to increase their sales. A great example of a company waking up to this unlocking phenomenon, is AT&T. Last year they disabled the tethering feature allowing the iPhone to be used as a computer modem.

In the U.K. and around Western Europe, box breaking (unlocking) is quite common. It is a legal practice which involves buying a pay-as-you-go handset from any retailer, then unlocking the phone and reselling abroad at a higher price than the retailers. The original SIM card is then either thrown away or resold elsewhere.

In Canada, there are presently no laws regulating SIM unlocking. Presently no wireless provider offers unlocked phones, but it is entirely legal to unlock them. Last year, Rogers Communications started offering an unlocking option on all of their phones for a fee of $50.00, brought about by public pressure. Bell Mobility followed suit with an unlocked option, however they do not offer this option on all of their handsets, and they charge $75.00. Apple Canada also became available unlocked, but only when purchased fully directly from Apple Canada.

Last June the Canadian government proposed changes to the Copyright Act (Bill C-32) maintaining the legality of unlocking cellular devices, followed by Bill C-560 (the Cell Phone Freedom Act) which would prohibit carriers from selling SIM locked phones in Canada without first informing the consumer of the existence of such a lock. This C-560 bill additionally mandates that phone companies selling new phones must unlock customer phones, without charge, at the end of contract or upon purchase of phone outright, when requested by the customer.

Whether you buy a GSM wireless phone, or unlock your present phone yourself, there are many attributes to being free of carrier limitations. Its a personal choice dependent on how you use your wireless device, which carrier you use and what options you may or may not have. Doing a little research for your wireless needs will help to determine if you should get into the unlocking phenomenon.

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