Ask Anything: How do I unlock my cell phone?Learn how to free your cell phone for use on other networks from CNET cell phone expert Kent German.
[ Music ] ^M00:00:03 >> Hi, I'm Tom Merit, editor from cnet.com along with Ken Sherman, our senior editor for cell phones here at CNET. And we are going to answer the question -- how do I unlock my phone. Ken, thanks for joining us. >> Sure. >> All right, so unlocking a phone. First of all, what does unlocking a phone mean? >> Well, unlocking a phone means to remove any settings that's tied to one carrier. So every phone sold with a carrier in this country, you can only make calls on that carrier, but if you unlock it then you can make calls on other carriers. >> Okay, so if I buy a phone from AT&T I can go down the street to T-Mobile and use it on that carrier. I can change my plan. >> You can. >> All right. How do you unlock it? >> Well, first you need to understand the difference between GSM and CMA, because you can unlock every cell phone, but GSM phones are a lot easier to use unlocked. >> Okay, how do I tell the difference between CMA and GSM? How do I know which one I have? >> Your carrier, for one. If you're AT&T you're GSM, for Sprint or Verizon, you're CMA. Also, a SIM card. SIM card is that little tiny chip you see a lot. It's only used in GSM phones. So we have a GSM phone here. See the SIM card's tucked. I remove the battery first. That's usually where you find it. But on the other hand, the CMA phone, nothing there. >> Okay. So it's either Sprint, Nextel, Verizon, no SIM card. You can unlock it, but you're not really going to be able to do anything with it, right? >> No, because the SIM card when you pop it in a phone it activates the phone for you and the phone gets your identity and your number. If you have a CMA phone you actually need that other carrier to activate the phone for you, which they're going to be unwilling to do, in this case. >> So I get a new phone, I can just pop that SIM card out and pop it in a new phone. That's all I have to do? >> You can make calls right away. Other things, data features, you'll need some programings done, but we cover that in our quick unlock [Inaudible]. >> So I don't have to do anything else to unlock a phone. >> What you have to take -- you have to get the unlock code. And what that is, is it's code you can punch in your phone to unlock it for you. You get that from a few places. You can get it from a carrier. Your carrier, actually. And just kind of depends on who you talk to. Sometimes they'll give it to you, sometimes they won't. Also, they'll give it to you more likely if you're off the plan, because they want to keep you as a customer. You can get it online. There's places you can buy it on line, kind of beware of doing that. You know, want to make sure you're getting something legitimate. And you can take it to sort of a third-party gadget shop and they might be able to do it for you as well. But again, just be aware that you're getting something that really works. >> Or actually you can buy an unlocked phone from the get-go, right? It just doesn't give you the discounts. It's going to be more expensive. >> No. You don't get that carrier rebate. But unlocked phones, you can buy them from the outset, you can get a lot bigger selection than your carrier might offer. You can get higher phones, more advanced phones you see around the country. So get a better selection and you get the freedom to use it on any carrier. >> Okay, so I take the SIM card out, put it in my unlocked phone. The one exception on the GSM networks here in the United States is the Apple iPhone. >> Apple made it difficult for you. >> Isn't it illegal to unlock a phone? >> No, it's not actual illegal. And the federal government ruled at the end of last year that it is not illegal to unlock a phone. >> Okay. So if you can do it, you might as well go ahead. >> Absolutely. >> But be careful. Don't brick your iPhone. As far as other phones, follow Ken's guide on our Web site. Go to the cell phone section of cnet.com, look for our quick guide to unlocking cell phones. Thanks for joining us again. >> Sure. >> I'm Tom Merit, see you later.