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Video:What Is an Unlocked Cellphone?

with Christian Bryant

You’ve probably heard the term, "unlocking" a phone before, but what exactly does it mean and why would you want to do it? Watch this About.com video to learn all about unlocking a cellphone.See Transcript

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Transcript:What Is an Unlocked Cellphone?

Hey I'm Christian Bryant for About.com, and today we're explaining what an "unlocked" phone is. You've probably heard the term, "unlocking" a phone before, but what exactly does it mean, and why would you want to do it?

What Unlocking a Cellphone Means


Phones you get from your carrier are usually tied, or locked, to that specific company. You'll generally only get all the benefits of your voice and data plan if you're inside the carrier's coverage area.



Unlocking your phone will remove this carrier restriction. It enables you to take your device to any carrier you like, using any plan you like. If you don't like the service in your neighborhood with, say, T-Mobile, you can switch to AT&T.



But you will still need some sort of plan for mobile voice and data. If you want to get full use out of your phone on the go you're going to have to pay someone for the privilege of using their towers, be it through a traditional contract or a pay-as-you-go plan. 
Unlocked phones can be purchased outright, direct from manufacturers like Apple and sometimes through the carriers themselves. Expect a much higher upfront cost for hardware, though, because an unlocked phone is not subsidized by a carrier.

Advantages of Unlocking a Cellphone


And keep in mind a phone can only be unlocked if it has a SIM card for you to switch out. The SIM card is the chip that identifies your phone to carriers, and tells it which towers to use.



It's great if you want to keep your specific phone with an unlocked device, you're not stuck choosing from a new carrier's lineup of phones. You can keep your settings, and contacts, and sometimes your number too.



And if you travel abroad, having an unlocked phone means you can switch out your SIM card to use a local carrier. You can dodge the massive roaming fees that you'd be stuck with using a carrier-locked phone. But with that convenience comes a greater up-front cost.

Unlocking vs Jailbreaking


Note unlocking isn't the same thing as jailbreaking, which overrides software limitations of your particular device. That process allows you to tweak and customize the software which runs on your phone, but chances are it will also void your warranty. That's big trouble if you ever have a problem with your phone.

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