& 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
Following a recent board meeting, the New IP Agency (NIA) has a new strategy to help accelerate the adoption of NFV capabilities, explains the Agency's Founder and Secretary, Steve Saunders.
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
BT's McRae Sheds Light on 4K Strategy

5|25|17   |   4:45   |   (0) comments


At Light Reading's Big Communications Event 2017 in Austin, Texas, BT Group's Chief Network Architect Neil McRae talks about what it took for BT to broadcast live sports in 4K. Catch up with all our BCE coverage at http://www.lightreading.com/bce.asp.
From the Founder
How the NIA Aims to Advance NFV

5|25|17   |   08:07   |   (0) comments


Following a recent board meeting, the New IP Agency (NIA) has a new strategy to help accelerate the adoption of NFV capabilities, explains the Agency's Founder and Secretary, Steve Saunders.
LRTV Custom TV
Better Solutions That Address Growing Scale

5|25|17   |     |   (0) comments


For Comcast, the X1 rollout and 17-fold increases in broadband speeds in the past 16 years are among factors driving the need for Energy 2020 solutions that reduce cost and consumption, says Mark Hess.
LRTV Custom TV
Ethernity Network Delivers Instant Offloading of Network Functions With All-Programmable Intelligent NIC

5|25|17   |     |   (0) comments


David Levi, CEO of Ethernity Networks, explains that programmability of the hardware makes the company's All-Programmable Intelligent NIC uniquely beneficial for communications service providers that need advanced data appliances with agile support of virtualization. Utilizing the company's patented network processing technology, Ethernity offers data path ...
LRTV Documentaries
BCE 2017: Vodafone Gets Obsessed With Cloud-Native

5|25|17   |     |   (0) comments


Vodafone's Matt Beal updates us on Project Ocean and explains why simple virtualization isn't enough of a goal for network transformation. Catch up with other BCE 2017 keynotes and news at http://www.lightreading.com/bce.asp.
LRTV Documentaries
BCE 2017: Intel's Take on Network Transformation

5|24|17   |     |   (0) comments


In this BCE 2017 keynote, Lynn Comp discusses Intel's vision for areas such as analytics, automation and service assurance. For more videos and BCE coverage, see http://www.lightreading.com/bce.asp.
LRTV Documentaries
Order From Chaos: The Steve Saunders BCE Keynote

5|24|17   |   17:27   |   (0) comments


Kicking off BCE 2017, Light Reading founder Steve Saunders lays blame for NFV's slow ramp-up and urges telecom to return to old-fashioned standards building and interoperability testing.
Think of this as the video sequel to the recent columns he's written about NFV and the prospect of a telecom app store. (See

LRTV Documentaries
Service Provider Panel: Partnering in the Digital Era

5|22|17   |     |   (0) comments


Coopetition has always been part of telecom, but the ecosphere now includes data centers, vendors, apps developers, cloud service providers and Internet content providers. This BCE 2017 panel explores the new attitudes among network operators as to the value and variety of ...
LRTV Interviews
Site Demo: AT&T's IoT Flow Platform

5|19|17   |   04:25   |   (0) comments


At AT&T's R&D center in Tel Aviv, Israel, project leader Eyal Segev talks about the operator's Flow platform and how it helps to prototype IoT applications.
LRTV Documentaries
Agent of Change: A Q&A With AT&T's John Donovan

5|18|17   |     |   (0) comments


Carol Wilson talks with the man leading AT&T's transformation efforts about the challenge of change.
LRTV Documentaries
BCE Service Provider Panel: The New Business Realities

5|18|17   |     |   (0) comments


For virtualization to happen, the telecom industry first has to grapple with key functional aspects of SDN and NFV that need to be universal, such as onboarding of virtualized network functions and federation of software-defined networks.
LRTV Interviews
BCE Service Provider Keynote: CenturyLink

5|16|17   |   22:32   |   (0) comments


Aamir Hussain leads the Product Development and Technology organization at CenturyLink, which includes the company's information technology function. He is an experienced senior technology executive with more than 25 years of proven success in the implementation of global technology operations, operationalization of complex technology, infrastructures and business ...
Infographics
With the mobile ecosystem becoming increasingly vulnerable to security threats, AdaptiveMobile has laid out some of the key considerations for the wireless community.
Hot Topics
Cities Clamor for More Clout at FCC
Mari Silbey, Senior Editor, Cable/Video, 5/23/2017
What's Blocking 4K TV Today
Alan Breznick, Cable/Video Practice Leader, Light Reading, 5/22/2017
Sonus & Genband Finally Combine to Form $745M Company
Dan Jones, Mobile Editor, 5/23/2017
Fright Wigs & Cocktails: BCE 2017 in Pics
Mitch Wagner, Editor, Enterprise Cloud, 5/19/2017
Apple Looking to Cook 5G Test Devices
Dan Jones, Mobile Editor, 5/24/2017
Like Us on Facebook
Twitter Feed
BETWEEN THE CEOs - Executive Interviews
One of the nice bits of my job (other than the teeny tiny salary, obviously) is that I get to pick and choose who I interview for this slot on the Light Reading home ...
TEOCO Founder and CEO Atul Jain talks to Light Reading Founder and CEO Steve Saunders about the challenges around cost control and service monetization in the mobile and IoT sectors.
Animals with Phones
What Brogrammers Look Like to the Rest of Us Click Here
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.