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What is carrier lock on Phones? How to unlock it? Find Methods

In this post, we will talk about what carrier lock is on phones, why it is done, and how users can unlock it. You may find it useful if in case you ever receive a phone that has a locked phone. So, what is a locked phone anyway?

You may have come across the phrase “locked phone”, or someone frustratingly says that their phone is locked. It basically means that a smartphone user can’t use another mobile network operator’s services on a locked phone because a carrier locks the phone to its own network. Therefore, the practice is also called “carrier lock,” “network lock”, or “sim lock.”

Why do carriers lock phones?

It’s an established business practice in certain parts of the world including in the US where major carriers fix phones to their networks dulling their ability to operate on another network. Carriers such as T-Mobile and Sprint and others sell locked phones. If you have noticed a phone that has a logo of a mobile network on its body or appears in some form in the device, it means the device is or was locked at first.

Carriers lock phones so that buyers won’t purchase a subsidized phone from them at a cheaper rate and then switch to another operator. Carrier-locked phones come at a subsidized price. In return, they expect to earn through the users by selling mobile services (data, voice bundle).

Also find out: How to solve “Mobile Network not available” error on phones?

Difference between locked and unlocked phone

A locked phone works on a specific mobile network only. You can call any mobile network but you can’t use another service provider’s SIM in it and use it. The carrier installs a specific software to lock the phone which bars it from working on any other network.

An unlocked phone allows the use of any SIM card and runs on any network. You can take such a phone to any part of the world and use a local SIM card and use it. Because unlocking the phone, you can switch SIM cards and start calling, SMS, and data services without an issue. The same is for those ‘contractless’ phones sold in the majority parts of the world.

Carrier lock on phones is very popular in the US and a few other regions. Especially on flagship phones, the practice is wide. There are some good reasons for it.

Advantages of carrier-locked phones

  • Cost: A locked phone comes cheaper, and offers ‘better security from the carrier.’
  • Offers: There are gifts and offers attached to make the subsidized purchase more attractive.
  • Support: You also get better support from the service provider. You can visit any customer support and get repair services in case of defects on devices.
  • Insurance: Carriers also offer better insurance plans to make the contract purchase more appealing.

But still, users love to get out of the closed system of a locked phone and it has its own advantages. Why would you want to unlock your phone? Below are the reasons.

If you were wondering, telcos and phone vendors both cooperate to lock phones to their network.

Advantages of unlocked phones

  • Flexibility: Unlocked phones bring flexibility and convenience to phone users. Such phones support any network’s services so users can take them anywhere, insert any local SIM and use services at local rates.
  • Sale: Many opt for an unlocked phone or want to unlock a phone to sell them. The buyer may prefer another carrier network or live where the existing network in the phone may not work, so unlocking becomes necessary.
  • Resale value: A unlocked phone is more attractive for the reselling purpose and has a higher resale value. Selling such phones help buyers get a good return on their original spending on the phone.

Check out: Best Phones Under Rs 30000 in Nepal | Latest 2023 Update

How to know if your Android phone is locked by a carrier?

To find out if your Android is carrier-locked, do the following:

  • Go to Settings.
  • Go to Connections or anything similar.
  • Go to Networks or Cellular Networks.
  • Tap on Network operators.
  • It will look for available networks.

If no other network appears, it means your phone is locked.

In a simple way, you can check whether your phone is network locked or not by changing the current SIM to another operator’s SIM. If that SIM does not work on the phone, without having a connection to the mobile network, then your phone is locked to a particular telco’s mobile network.

How to tell if your iPhone is locked by a carrier?

Do this to see if your iPhone is locked by a carrier.

  • Go to Settings and tap on Cellular.
  • If you don’t see the ‘Cellular Data Network‘ option under Cellular, it means your iPhone is carrier-locked.

Why are carrier-locked phones not available or sold in Nepal?

You might take relief that there is no carrier lock practice in Nepal. We have had carriers sell cheap subsidized phones in the past but was minimal in practice. Contract phones don’t exist in Nepal. It may be because of the commercial viability. The Nepali smartphone market is comparatively small and most Nepalese buy mid-range phones. Vendors/telecom operators can’t draw higher revenue from the limited output. Subsidizing flagship phones on installment payment won’t be viable for Nepali operators.

Another reason, there are no subsidized phones in Nepal is to guarantee full payment on smartphones. Because in other countries as in the US, a unique national identity number such as through their social security number of customers helps telcos to keep track of their customers. Such a system is yet to be implemented in Nepal although in process.

Check out: 2G, 3G, 4G, 5G mobile network explained simply

Would be new and ‘risky’ too

In addition, Nepali phone buyers have grown with the habit of buying a phone for ‘life.’ So contract payment is going to be new and risky for carriers. If service providers chose to start selling carrier-locked phones, it will take users’ freedom of switching between networks and need time to adopt the new behavior. It’s not a guarantee that it would work. In fact, we are already talking about mobile number portability so, phones limited to a single carrier might not attract users either.

So, if you get a carrier-locked phone in Nepal, it’s likely it came from abroad as a gift. But this might force you to roam about to find a fix. We talk about this in detail below.

How do I unlock my phone?

There are methods to unlock your carrier or SIM-locked phone in Nepal. Most locked phones in Nepal are coming from the US. Therefore, you need to establish contact with them to officially unlock your phone. find out how you can unlock iPhones or others from the US.

How to unlock US iPhones and other phones from the US and the world?

For eg, if your phone is AT&T, go to this link and click on “Unlock your device”. Then you need to fill out an online form and submit it. Look for an email to confirm your unlock request. The carrier will send a request shortly revealing the status of your request.

If your phone is locked by Verizon, the phone should be unlocked 60 days after its purchase. So, if you have a phone locked by this US carrier, it should already be unlocked. The process is similar to unlocking other network or SIM-locked phones from the US or elsewhere.

There is a provision for US phones that if a device is not under a contract with the carrier, it shall be set free by the carrier. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) of the US requires US operators to unlock phones when they run out of active contracts. If you are buying a locked phone from someone in the US, first ensure that they unlock it.

And not just in the US, but in many other countries, telcos sell phones which are customized for a particular operator in a country. Such phones come with the telco’s own list of software (bloatware) among other customization. So, users can terminate their contract with the telco and pay in full for the phone ahead of its maturity and own the phone. For an instance, most phones have a 2-year contract for installment payment. One can pay installments for a year and end the contract by paying the whole amount as per the contract with the telco and get the phone unlocked. The nature of the contract regarding the payment is agreed upon while purchasing the network-locked phone.

CHECK OUT: Apple iPhone Price in Nepal | Latest 2023 Update

An example of a network-locked phone deal

For an example of how carriers or phone makers network-lock iPhones and sell them, check the image from Apple. Buyers in the US can buy iPhone 14 Pro model starting from $999 or choose to buy in a two-year contract which cost $41.62 a month for 24 months. Likewise, the iPhone 14 Pro Max model comes at starting price of $1099 or at $45.79 a month for 2 years.

subsidized apple iphone 14 pro max models with their contract payment installment
Apple iPhone 14 Pro and Pro Max models are network-locked with their subsidized price | source: Image from Apple

Below, you can check out how the latest iPhone series fare in subsidized deals among the three telcos in the US. The practice and idea of contract phones sold via carriers are similar around the world.

iPhone 14 Pro Max deal with AT&T verizon, T Mobile
iPhone 14 Pro Max monthly payment deal among three telcos in the US | Credit: From Apple

Meanwhile, you can buy iPhone 14 Pro Max in Nepal and they are not coming fixed to any carrier.

In case you can’t get your phone unlocked officially, there is still a workaround though we don’t encourage or promote them by any stretch.

There are various websites or mobile phone stores that unlock carrier-locked phones. If you have such a phone, you can get it serviced there. But for security reasons, always take it as your last resort.

If you have a phone that is locked by a carrier or need information on unlocking it, then let us know in the comments below.

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