What is Factory Locked?

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What is Factory Locked?

Believe it or not, the first ever mobile phonecall was made in 1946, although by today's standard, mobile is probably a misnomer. The device weighed about 80 pounds and cost $30 a month (a huge sum back in the ‘40s) plus about 30 cents per minute for a local call. Today, cellular phones are smaller, more affordable, and most service providers offer competitive rates and large discounts on handsets. Most people can get a significant price cut on handsets when they sign up with a service provider. These phones, however, are often factory locked.

For cell phone owners or those thinking about signing a contract with a new provider (particularly to get a handset for free or at a discount), this document will serve as a guide on the definition of factory locked phones. First, a list of useful acronyms regarding factory locked phones will be provided, and then factory locked will be defined. Furthermore, the reasons why providers lock phones will be discussed. Consumers looking to unlock their phones should first consider a few points about unlocked phones. For those looking to purchase mobile phones, eBay can be a viable source for all things related to locked phones.

List of Useful Acronyms

Before learning about the nitty-gritty of locked phones, it's best to know the different acronyms manufacturers and service providers use in the industry. The chart below lists the most common terms used and what each represents.


Short for...


Code Division Multiple Access


Global System for Mobile Communications


International Mobile Equipment Identity


Mobile Network Operator


Subscriber Identity Module


Mobile Country Code

These are the important acronyms that are used when discussing mobile phones and factory locking and unlocking phones. As they are used in this document, their definitions will be explained within the context of the guide.

Definition of Factory Locked

Factory locked refers to mobile phones that have been restricted for use on only one network. That means users cannot abandon their contract with a cell phone company and take their discounted phone to another provider because their phone simply won't work with other companies.

How Phones are Locked

Cell phones that are built for the GSM network (a type of wireless technology) utilize a SIM card. This SIM card is a small plastic chip that contains the identity of the phone and user, so that he or she can make phone calls over the network. When a phone is locked to a phone, it ties the SIM card to the phone so that the card will only work on that particular phone or other phones locked to the same carrier. This is done through a special software that ties the SIM to the phone's unique identifier code, or its IMEI. This process can only be reversed if the correct unlock codes are entered into the phone, or special software is used to remove the locking software. Usually, the former can be provided by the carrier and the latter is used by third parties to unlock phones. Unfortunately, attempting to unlock a phone can often render it useless, when not done correctly.

Why Phones are Factory Locked

Perhaps many people are wondering why phones are locked in the first place, when locking seems like a lot of trouble for customers. Additionally, an unlocked phone makes sense so people who travel a lot can use their phones abroad (by using local SIM cards) and save money on roaming fees. There are two main reasons why manufacturers lock phones, namely, to install additional features and to recuperate costs of discounted phones.

Added Features on Locked Phones

Many carriers add software programs to factory locked phone that can be useful to subscribers. These can include one-touch access to phone features, free calling to certain numbers, or applications that can be used to check balances, unbilled charges, or get special coupons and discounts. Many of these types of software also add carrier-specific features like wallpapers, screensavers, start-up logos, music, and many other useful features.

Recuperate Costs on Discounted Phones

The second, and perhaps the most compelling reason why MNOs lock phones is to prevent subscribers from jumping ship to another carrier once they receive their discounted phone or when the contract is up. Mobile phone service providers often take a big loss on selling phones at a discounted price and the only way they can recuperate is by ensuring the subscriber pays his or her monthly fees during the contract period and remain loyal customers for a few years. Often, subscribers who break their contract must pay a large early termination fee. Factory locking a phone can also ensure subscribers won't be able to purchase discounted phones and sell them for a profit.

Considerations Before Unlocking Factory Locked Phones

Perhaps the reasons stated previously are not enough to compel people to keep their phones factory locked, or they have better reasons why they should get their phones unlocked. In some cases, providers will be willing to give owners the unlock codes, or this could be done through third party software. However, before doing so, it's important to consider a few things, such as the feasibility, costs, and the legality of unlocking factory locked phones.

Feasibility of Unlocking a Factory Locked Phone

Not all types of cellphones can be unlocked easily. GSM phones that use SIM cards are the primary type of phone that can be unlocked by a third party. Unfortunately, subscribers on a CDMA network must go to their service providers directly to get their unlock codes. Many wireless operators require something in return, like having no previous history of requesting unlock codes, keeping an account in good standing, or being a subscriber and paying the account in full for a few months.

Costs of Unlocking the Factory Locked Phone

For the technically-savvy, unlocking a phone could take no more than a piece of software and some patience. However, there are third parties who charge for this service, and may do so at a steep cost. Unlocking certain models can take a lot of time and effort, and thus many third party unlockers may charge a large fee for their service.

Legality of Unlocking a Factory Locked Phone

In many places around the world, it is actually illegal to sell factory locked phones. In the United States, Apple and wireless service providers were criticized for their practices of locking iPhones, and thus new laws were enacted to make unlocking and jailbreaking perfectly legal. Basically, the law gives the consumer rights to do what they please with their phones because they've paid for them. While those big companies can't break the law, they are within their rights to enforce terms and conditions, void warranties, and disable (or "brick") unlocked phones.

Buying a Factory Locked Phone on eBay

With an easy-to-navigate website and comprehensive category listings, buying a factory locked phone (or any type of phone) on eBay has never been easier. eBay offers a robust search engine so you can find what you need, as well as an active community to discuss all things buying and selling on the site.

Searching for a Factory Locked Phone on eBay

It's easy to start searching for a factory locked phone on eBay. On top of the front page is a search box that can be used to find any item that may be listed on eBay. Type in the applicable keywords, like "locked iPhone 4" or "Samsung locked phone." The next page will show a list of items related to that search. You can also browse categories like Cell Phones & Accessories and Consumer Electronics where cell phones may be listed.

Navigating eBay Community

Whether you're a newbie or a seasoned eBay member, you'll surely benefit from joining the eBay Community. On this section on the site, you can ask other members for advice on eBay or join different interest groups. There's also a discussion board where you can meet other members and share information about eBay and anything else under the sun.


Wireless phone service providers often provide factory locked phones to their subscribers. A mobile phone is said to be factory locked when it cannot be used with another service provider. A special software is installed in the phone that ties the particular phone to a single network or single user. Providers often lock phones so they can add special software to enhance the phone's capabilities, as well as to ensure they can recover their losses when giving away free phones or selling them at a discount. However, some users may want the flexibility of an unlocked phone, and before attempting to remove the factory lock, they should first consider whether it's possible to unlock their phones, the costs associated with unlocking phones, as well as the legalities. With thousands of sellers and hundreds of items being listed everyday on eBay, buyers will surely find factory locked phones, unlocked phones, and other phone accessories that they need on this site.


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