& cplSiteName &

Phone Unlocking: Almost Legal, Still Not Easy

Sarah Thomas
7/28/2014
50%
50%

The good news for those that wish to jump carriers or unlock their device when traveling abroad is they will no longer face fines of up to $500,000 and a jail sentence of up to five years for doing so. The bad news is that the technical and monetary limitations that made it challenging to do so in the past have not gone away.

Since the beginning of 2013, an update to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) has made it illegal to "jailbreak," or unlock cellphones to make them usable on other networks, without the wireless operator's permission. The Library of Congress this week approved a bill to reverse that decision, and give customers the right to do so without facing copyright infringement charges.

The decision comes after pressure from Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Tom Wheeler to update the ruling, and months after all four major US wireless operators voluntarily agreed to new guidelines on alerting those customers in good standing that they can unlock their phones once the life of their contract is up. (See FCC: Unlock or We Regulate and Wireless Carriers Agree to Unlocking Rules.)

The new "Unlocking Consumer Choice and Wireless Competition Act" was passed by the Senate on July 15 and by the House on July 25. It will go into effect once signed by President Obama. Vermont Senator Patrick Leahy, who wrote the new Senate bill, writes in a statement that this will help give customers more flexibility in their choice of operators, but it's not as simple as it sounds.

As Jackdaw Research's Chief Analyst Jan Dawson points out, the environment for phone unlocking has changed quite a bit during the past couple of years, since you can now get a discount from all the major carriers for bringing your own phone. That said, the new ruling may be more of a moral victory than anything, because significant barriers still exist.


For the latest on operator policies, check out the dedicated mobile content channel here on Light Reading.


On the technical front, AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T) and T-Mobile US Inc. 's 3G GSM networks are incompatible with Verizon Wireless and Sprint Corp. (NYSE: S)'s 3G CDMA networks. All four are also using different LTE bands, so 4G LTE interoperability isn't guaranteed either.

What's more, most of the operators still have early termination fees (ETFs) that mean their customers would have to pay -- around $350 or more -- to pay off their phone if they were to make a switch. T-Mobile, for one, has offered to pay off switchers' ETFs, which could encourage some to make the jump, but it will be a big barrier for the other carriers. Dawson worries the new legislation may lead some people to assume these barriers have been removed, when they actually still remain.

"I think there are more reasons for people to want to unlock their phones than before, but there are still major barriers, including the technological incompatibility between Sprint and Verizon on the one hand, and AT&T and T-Mobile on the other, and the fact that you'll still have to pay to get out of your contract if you haven't paid off your phone yet," Dawson explains.

— Sarah Reedy, Senior Editor, Light Reading

(9)  | 
Comment  | 
Print  | 
Newest First  |  Oldest First  |  Threaded View        ADD A COMMENT
SachinEE
50%
50%
SachinEE,
User Rank: Light Sabre
7/30/2014 | 2:40:19 PM
Re: Too late?
It is sometimes very interesting to reflect upon the fact that even though as Americans we may consider ourselves at the head of technology and innovation, some of the less advanced countries still beat us at the little things. For instance, Nokia has been manufacturing and selling double SIM handsets in these countries for more than half a decade and they would scoff at the thought of having a phone tied down to a single carrier.
SachinEE
50%
50%
SachinEE,
User Rank: Light Sabre
7/30/2014 | 2:39:54 PM
Re: Anyone else unlocked
I will probably get 'followed' for this post if it gets read by the wrong group but as a frequent traveler I long ago discovered that sometimes it doesn't have to be legal to be done. There are some 'illegal ways' to get the same phones unlocked and I have used them before. The fact that it is now legal means that new bottlenecks have been brought in (like what you had to go through SReedy) so the illegal still works for me. At least until things smoothen up!
DHagar
50%
50%
DHagar,
User Rank: Light Sabre
7/29/2014 | 2:39:37 PM
Re: Details
@kq4ym, I am sure you are right.  Let's hope it is the second scenario.
kq4ym
50%
50%
kq4ym,
User Rank: Light Sabre
7/29/2014 | 1:20:14 PM
Re: Details
Allowing unlocked service may eventually turn out to be a good deal for consumers. But, as pointed out, there's still the problems involved in getting to the end of the road. The providers may just find ways to keep complicating the issue in coming years, or use the new rules as a marketing tool to gain a competitive edge.
acohn
50%
50%
acohn,
User Rank: Light Sabre
7/29/2014 | 10:26:21 AM
Re: Anyone else unlocked?
http://www.redmondpie.com/ is your friend.
DHagar
50%
50%
DHagar,
User Rank: Light Sabre
7/28/2014 | 10:00:43 PM
Re: Details
@SReedy,  Thanks for true perspective.  Yes, the law does make it seem like it is now a viable option (although one still has to consider the termination fees), but the issues you raise make still hold the customer hostage.

Note:  The carrier that is waiving that fee, and others that might build in the customer ability to more easily unlock, may be able to capture the market - if the trend catches on.  At least they could try the international market as a starting point.
MPlank
50%
50%
MPlank,
User Rank: Light Beer
7/28/2014 | 3:36:55 PM
Details
The House and Senate don't sign legislation - they pass it. And, it should be "goes into effect" http://www.translegal.com/common-mistakes/affect-vs-effect :-)
From The Founder
Cisco's Conrad Clemson, recently promoted to head up the company's Service Provider Apps & Platforms developments, talks to Light Reading's Founder and CEO Steve Saunders about how he's bringing cloud video, mobile and virtualization together to empower network operators.
Flash Poll
Live Streaming Video
Charting the CSP's Future
Six different communications service providers join to debate their visions of the future CSP, following a landmark presentation from AT&T on its massive virtualization efforts and a look back on where the telecom industry has been and where it's going from two industry veterans.
LRTV Interviews
Heavy Reading: The Web-Scale View

1|18|17   |     |   (0) comments


At Light Reading's 2020 Vision Executive Summit in Rome, Heavy Reading's former chief analyst Patrick Donegan shared insight from the recent web-scale operators report, which featured research on how web-scale operators view the market, the best web-scale companies to ...
LRTV Custom TV
Cisco's Cloud Scale Networking: Automation, Virtualization & Simplification

1|18|17   |     |   (0) comments


Cisco's Sanjeev Mervana outlines the latest innovations in networking technology at CES 2017 in Las Vegas.
LRTV Custom TV
ADVA Talks Innovation & the Future of Networking

1|17|17   |     |   (0) comments


Ray Le Maistre and Christoph Glingener, CTO of ADVA Optical Networking, discuss the current state of the industry, cooperation and collaboration, open innovation and the future of networking.
LRTV Custom TV
Cisco's Infinite Video Platform

1|17|17   |     |   (0) comments


Cisco's Infinite Video Platform allows service providers to deliver broadcast-quality video over IP networks. Infinite video supports many devices, from 4K TVs to tablets to game consoles. Join Cisco's Rajeev Raman for a brief tour and live demo.
LRTV Interviews
Masergy: Ability to Adapt Key for NFV

1|16|17   |   6:40   |   (0) comments


Speaking at Light Reading's 2020 Vision in Rome, Masergy's VP, Global Technology, Ray Watson, said agility is key to providing the mix and match NFV-based services that are driving business for the managed service provider today.
LRTV Interviews
Equinix: The Data Explosion

1|13|17   |   4:16   |   (0) comments


At Light Reading's 2020 Vision in Rome, Eric Schwartz, president of EMEA, Equinix, talked about how Equinix is helping its customers manage the influx of data today, and how it's preparing for a future filled with millions of connected IoT devices.
LRTV Interviews
Heavy Reading: The Changing Data Center Landscape

1|12|17   |   6:05   |   (1) comment


At Light Reading's 2020 Vision event in Rome, Heavy Reading's Senior Analyst Roz Roseboro talks about how virtualization is impacting data center evolution and how that evolution is affecting the relationship between service providers, data center operators and public cloud providers.
LRTV Interviews
Boingo: Prepping for Millions of Devices

1|12|17   |   5:07   |   (2) comments


At Light Reading's 2020 Vision in Rome, Boingo's CTO Derek Peterson discusses how wireless operators will address the needs of low-bandwidth and high-bandwidth apps at the same time, the need for more MHz, the impact of IoT and more.
LRTV Interviews
Comcast Shows Off Gig Gateway at CES

1|11|17   |     |   (1) comment


With its largest presence at CES in years, Comcast took the wraps off its long-awaited gigabit gateway and a new platform for managing the home WiFi network. Light Reading Senior Editor Mari Silbey sat down with EVP Chris Satchell to discuss the latest Comcast advance, and met with VP of Product Strategy and Development Andrea Peiro to walk through a demo of the ...
LRTV Interviews
Colt: End-to-End Key for 2017

1|10|17   |   6:21   |   (0) comments


At Light Reading's 2020 Vision Executive Summit in Rome, Nico Fischbach of Colt said having a multi-carrier, end-to-end service proposition is going to be key for 2017 -- and SD-WAN is instrumental in making it happen.
From the Founder
Cisco's Clemson on Mobile Cloud Video

1|9|17   |     |   (2) comments


Cisco's Conrad Clemson, recently promoted to head up the company's Service Provider Apps & Platforms developments, talks to Light Reading's Founder and CEO Steve Saunders about how he's bringing cloud video, mobile and virtualization together to empower network operators. "If you think about where we're going… whether it's a mobile application, or a video ...
LRTV Custom TV
VMware Telco NFV Solutions – Preparing for 5G & IOT

1|9|17   |     |   (0) comments


Shekar Ayyar, EVP & Corporate Strategy/General Manager of Telco for VMware, discusses VMware's Telco NFV solutions role and foundation for the Imminent Arrival of 5G & IOT.
Upcoming Live Events
March 21-22, 2017, The Curtis Hotel, Denver, CO
May 15-17, 2017, Austin Convention Center, Austin, TX
All Upcoming Live Events
Infographics
Hot Topics
A Women in Comms Glossary
Sarah Thomas, Director, Women in Comms, 1/18/2017
Is Cable One Beefing Up for Slaughter?
Alan Breznick, Cable/Video Practice Leader, Light Reading, 1/20/2017
Nokia CTO: 2017 Is the Year 5G Gets in the Field
Dan Jones, Mobile Editor, 1/19/2017
TV's Paradox: No HDR Without 4K
Mari Silbey, Senior Editor, Cable/Video, 1/17/2017
Qualcomm Study Predicts 5G Will Create 22M Jobs by 2035
Dan Jones, Mobile Editor, 1/17/2017
Like Us on Facebook
Twitter Feed
BETWEEN THE CEOs - Executive Interviews
Light Reading founder and CEO Steve Saunders chats with Sportlogiq CEO Craig Buntin about sports data analysis.
Eyal Waldman, CEO of Mellanox Technologies, speaks to Steve Saunders, CEO of Light Reading, for an exclusive interview about the 100 GB cable challenge, cybersecurity and much more.
Animals with Phones
Live Digital Audio

Playing it safe can only get you so far. Sometimes the biggest bets have the biggest payouts, and that is true in your career as well. For this radio show, Caroline Chan, general manager of the 5G Infrastructure Division of the Network Platform Group at Intel, will share her own personal story of how she successfully took big bets to build a successful career, as well as offer advice on how you can do the same. We’ll cover everything from how to overcome fear and manage risk, how to be prepared for where technology is going in the future and how to structure your career in a way to ensure you keep progressing. Chan, a seasoned telecom veteran and effective risk taker herself, will also leave plenty of time to answer all your questions live on the air.