Starting next February, Sprint customers should be able to unlock any phone or tablet offered by the carrier.
In a recent update to its unlocking FAQ page, the carrier specifically states that "Sprint is working to ensure that all devices developed and launched on or after February 11, 2015 are capable of being unlocked domestically." As covered by blog site Android Police, such a move promises that you'd be able to request an unlock code for any Sprint phone or tablet to free it up for potential use with another US carrier.
Sprint can't yet unlock certain devices simply because of the way they're designed. The iPhone and other phones made with a SIM slot in the past three years can't be unlocked to work with a different carrier's SIM, according to the unlocking FAQs. And even phones that can be unlocked may not retain all of their functionality.
So what's going to change by next February?
Last December, wireless carriers struck a deal with the Federal Communications Commission to loosen their restrictions on cell phone unlocking.
AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, US Cellular, and Verizon Wireless agreed through wireless-industry trade group CTIA to six new principles added to the Consumer Code for Wireless Service. The new policy was official adopted last February, giving carriers up to a year to comply with certain requirements.
But -- yes, there's always a but -- that still doesn't mean you'll be able to take any unlocked device and use it with any other US carrier. The other carrier still has to support the device and all of its functionality, which is obviously beyond Sprint's control. And sorry, iPhone users, Sprint still won't be able to unlock Apple's flagship phone due to various restrictions, a Sprint spokeswoman told CNET.
In the meantime, two of Sprint's unlocking FAQs are detailed below:
"I've been told by another carrier that Sprint needs to unlock my SIM slot in order to use my phone on the other carrier's network."
"For eligible devices, Sprint will unlock the SIM slot, to the extent that a device SIM slot is capable of being unlocked. It is important to note that not all devices are capable of being unlocked, often because of the manufacturers' device designs, and that even for those devices capable of being unlocked, not all device functionality may be capable of being unlocked. Specifically, devices manufactured with a SIM slot within the past three years (including, but not limited to, all Apple iPhone devices), cannot be unlocked to accept a different domestic carrier's SIM for use on another domestic carrier's network. Sprint has no technological process available to do this. In accordance with Sprint's voluntary commitment contained within CTIA's Consumer Code for Wireless Service ('Unlocking Commitment'), Sprint is working to ensure that all devices developed and launched on or after February 11, 2015 are capable of being unlocked domestically."
"If my device is unlocked, does that mean I will be able to use it with a different carrier?"
"Even if unlocked, Sprint devices will not necessarily work on another carrier's network. Whether an unlocked Sprint device can be used on another carrier's network is subject to that carrier's policies and network compatibilities. Even if a different carrier will activate a Sprint device on its network, Sprint does not make any guarantees as to a Sprint device's performance on another carrier's network or that any or all device features or functionalities will be fully or partially operational. Although a phone manufacturer may manufacture the same device model and name for different wireless carriers offering wireless service in the United States, Sprint devices are specifically designed to function on Sprint's network and Sprint's frequencies and technologies."