Unlocked Phone? Does It Change the Out of Box Experience?

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How Does a Phone Become "Unlocked?" Does It Change the Out of Box Experience?

It seems that today, the cellphone has become an essential part of daily life. What used to be a luxury item that was enjoyed by the very rich, today is an accessible and must-have device for almost everyone on the planet. Mobile phones come in all shapes, sizes, and configurations, but one thing many owners want is an unlocked phone. They want the freedom to move between carriers (and even between countries) and modify their phones as they please without any hassles. That's perhaps why many people pay a premium price to release their phones from the shackles of a single carrier by buying an unlocked phone or having their phones unlocked by a third party.

This guide aims to explain how a phone becomes unlocked, by first explaining what an unlocked phone is and how it's unlocked. After a phone becomes unlocked, people may be wondering if it changes the out of box experience. The quick answer is it does, both in positive and negative ways. Unlocked phones are available directly from the manufacturer or from retail electronics stores and big box stores. Online shopping has always been a convenient option and eBay is one of the best places to buy an unlocked phone.

Unlocked Phone Defined

An unlocked phone is essentially a handset that can be used with any carrier, practically anywhere in the world. Most carriers will lock down a phone using special codes or a piece of software to prevent subscribers from using it with a competitor's SIM card. This practice discourages customers from taking advantage of cheap or free handsets and then leaving the company for a competitor. While unlocking a phone is not illegal (a fact which was emphasized by the US Copyright Office) and subscribers can demand unlock codes from their carriers, these carriers are not obligated to help nor do they encourage subscribers to unlock their phones.

How a Phone Becomes Unlocked

A phone can be purchased factory unlocked, meaning it's ready to use with any SIM out of the box. However, those who purchase or receive a locked phone will have to go through a process to unlock the unit. There are different ways to unlock a phone; the method varies depending if it's a regular GSM phone or a smartphone.

How a GSM Phone Becomes Unlocked

More often than not, a basic cell phone that doesn't use a specialized operating system (like iOS or Android) and utilizes a SIM card is considered a GSM phone. Unlocking such a phone is simple, as it often only requires a code to unlock the phone. The cellular service provider can provide this number or it can be retrieved using a special code cracking software. In both cases, the user will have to provide the handset's unique IMEI or International Mobile Equipment Identity number. There are different methods of finding a phone's IMEI number. The chart below summarizes the different steps used to obtain the IMEI of popular mobile phones.

Type of Phone

IMEI Retrieval Method

Nokia and other non-smart GSM phones

Remove the battery and look for IMEI number; dial *#06# on the keypad to display the number


Go to Settings, tap on General and find the MEID (a variant of IMEI used on Apple products)


Remove the battery and look for IMEI number; dial *#06# on the keypad to display the number; go to Menu from the home screen, then Settings, then to About Phone; tap on Status to show the IMEI number


Remove the battery and look for IMEI number; dial *#06# on the keypad to display the number

Different phones may have different ways to retrieve an IMEI number, sometimes even if the phone is lost or stolen. Carriers may also have a record of the IMEI number for specific phones, so users can call their carriers for more information. In addition, although all phones have a unique identifying number, some phones may require more steps to unlock.

How a Smartphone Becomes Unlocked

A smartphone is a little more complicated to unlock than a regular GSM phone. Phones like the iPhone, Android-based phones, and Windows phones are built like mini-computers, and require more than a number code to be unlocked. For such phones, the user needs to find a way to open the operating system to modification, often called jailbreaking (for iPhones) or rooting (for Android and Windows phones). There are many third-party companies or organizations dedicated to reverse engineering (or some may say "hacking") these OSes to find a method of unlocking these types of phones. Once these phones have been rooted or jailbroken, further modification can then be done to unlock them from their carrier-specific locks.

Unlocking a Phone and the Out of Box Experience

Mobile phone owners may be wondering why they should unlock their phones, and what happens after. Like most things, there is a good side and the bad side. There are benefits to unlocking a phone, and there may be valid warnings against unlocking a phone.

Benefits of Unlocking a Phone

The main reason people want to unlock a phone is to be able to use it on a different carrier. Perhaps they want to travel abroad and use their phones with a local SIM card to avoid high roaming fees. It could be their contract is over and want to switch to a low-cost provider or pay-as-you-go SIM. Perhaps they are simply unhappy with their current provider and want to change to another service provider. Whatever the reason, an unlocked phone can be used with any provider, almost anywhere in the world. Additionally, an unlocked phone also has a higher resale value, and can sell faster because there's a bigger market for such phones.

For those who may be tech-savvy, unlocking a smartphone can markedly change the out of box experience. Most smartphone owners are restricted to purchasing applications from official stores, like Apple's App Store or the Google Play store. Apple, Google, and Windows often dictate what can and can't be sold in their applications stores. However, an unlocked smartphone can install any app from anywhere, even if it's not officially sanctioned. In addition, unlocking a phone gives a user access to all the backend codes and menus not usually available to consumers. Users can change the menus, the look and feel of the GUI, and even enhance or improve the system's performance.

Warnings Against Unlocking a Phone

While the benefits for unlocking a phone may be enticing, there are some possible warnings against unlocking a phone. While these may not be true in all cases, people unlocking their phones should know that they can void the warranty, violate terms and conditions with their carrier, open the phone to security issues, as well as permanently damage a phone.

Void Warranty and Violate Terms and Conditions

As clarified by the US Copyright Office, unlocking a phone isn't considered a violation of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, even if it's bought at a discount from the carrier. However, doing so can void the warranty and violate the terms and conditions in the contract with the carrier. If the phone breaks and has been found to have been tampered with, the carrier can refuse to fix the unit, and even cancel the customer's contract.

Security Issues

Rooting or jailbreaking a smartphone opens the system to modifications by the owner, but it can also be left vulnerable to hackers and malware. Some of these worms and attacks can steal private data from phones, and even infect phones that are in the same network.

Permanent Damage

People who aren't technically knowledgeable who try to unlock their phones without help may end up damaging their phones permanently. This can be due to improper installation of unlocking software, or it could happen when the phone installs official updates. The device may not function properly or stop working completely. When unlocking a phone with third-party software, there's always a risk of "bricking" the phone or essentially turning it into a very expensive paperweight.

Buying an Unlocked Phone on eBay

Unlocked phones may cost more than locked phones, but they do offer much more flexibility, which is why some people would be willing to pay extra for them. One reason why people turn to eBay is because they can often find some of the best prices anywhere.

Searching for an Unlocked Phone on eBay

You can start searching for an unlocked phone on eBay by using the search box on the starting page or utilizing an Advanced Search. Think of the related phrases or words that can help the search engine find the items you need, like "unlocked Nokia phone" or "iPhone 4 s unlocked" and type it in the search box. When you hit enter or search, you'll be sent to a results page with all the listings that match your keywords. You can also browse the listings in the various categories mobile phones may be listed under, such as Cell Phones & Smartphones and Consumer Electronics.

Using eBay Wish List

If you want to point your friends or family in the right direction when getting you a gift for your birthday or the holidays, you can a can give them a hint by using the eBay Wish List. Find the item you want and click on the "add to Wish List" option in the dropdown menu. This will be added to your Wish List and you can then share this with other people using email or by sharing it on Facebook.


It used to be, people were tied down to their cellular network provider for at least two years when they signed a contract and availed of deeply discounted phones. Even if they could get out of the contract, they wouldn't be able to use their phones on another provider because of carrier lockdown on units. Today, however, it's possible to purchase unlocked phones or even have them unlocked, thus freeing subscribers from having to stay with a single carrier.

If a phone doesn't come unlocked, then there are different ways to have them unlocked, depending on whether it's a GSM phone (which requires an IMEI number) or a smartphone (which will require the phone to be rooted or jailbroken, then unlocked with a special software). Unlocking a smartphone certainly changes its out of the box experience, both in good ways and bad ways. Smart buyers who want to find the best deals on the Internet turn to eBay. With thousands of sellers on this website, buyers can find competitive prices on the things they need, including unlocked phones.

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