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The 411: Activating unlocked phones

Every week, CNET editor Nicole Lee answers your questions about cell phones and their accessories.

Nicole Lee Former Editor
Nicole Lee is a senior associate editor for CNET, covering cell phones, Bluetooth headsets, and all things mobile. She's also a fan of comic books, video games, and of course, shiny gadgets.
Nicole Lee
3 min read

Welcome to the 411, my Q&A column answering all your questions about cell phones and cell phone accessories. I receive plenty of questions about these subjects via e-mail, so I figured many of you might have the same questions, too. At times, I might solicit answers from readers if I'm stumped. Send your questions and comments to me at nicole.lee@cnet.com. If you prefer to remain anonymous, let me know in the e-mail.

I really don't like having to sign any cell phone contract. If I buy an unlocked GSM phone, can I just pop in a SIM card and it'll work automatically?--Siri, via e-mail

Technically, yes, but it depends on the phone. If you really want to ensure that you can use the phone anywhere in the world, you should make sure it is a quad-band phone that is compatible with all four GSM bands (850, 900, 1,800, and 1,900MHz). Also note that even though you can make calls with it, most phones require you to activate a data or messaging plan with your carrier before you can use features such as MMS or e-mail. Kent German, a CNET senior editor, recently posted a quick how-to on activating MMS on unlocked phones, and you can ask your carrier if your phone requires more detailed settings. For the BlackBerry, for example, you need to know the APN or Access Point Name for your particular carrier to access the Internet. Here is a handy guide on how to enable full Internet access on the BlackBerry along with APNs of some of the more popular cellular providers. If our readers have any more tips on other platforms, please let tell us in the comments.

Can you use the Motorola Rokr S9 HD with the new iPod Touch OS update?
Can you use the Motorola Rokr S9 HD with the new iPod Touch OS update? Motorola

I want to purchase one of these Motorola S9 HD stereo Bluetooth headsets, but I am curious. I have a second-generation iPod Touch with the upgraded OS. Do I still need the D650 attachment to get the head phones to pair or will the internal Bluetooth on my MP3 player suffice?--Rahul, via e-mail

No, Rahul, you no longer need the Motorola D650 attachment. The OS update to the second-generation iPod Touch will give it the A2DP streaming capability--the D650 attachment is only for the older iPods that don't have stereo Bluetooth. For those who have not upgraded their iPod Touch to the new OS, do note that it does cost you $5 (it was $10 before) to get the software update.

I have zero bars where I live and was wondering if you recommend the Verizon Wireless Network Extender? (I have Verizon Wireless). Does it really work in improving signal strength and does it help with receiving and sending text messages or just calls?--Jerry, via e-mail

We had the opportunity to review the Verizon Wireless Network Extender earlier this year, and even though we tested it in a zone with relatively decent coverage, we did find that it improved the voice quality and the signal strength by quite a bit. We also received several user comments that it has considerably improved the Verizon signal in their phones, especially in fringe areas. It should work with sending and receiving text messages as well, but we did not test this. If any readers have tried the Verizon Wireless Network Extender, let us know how well it has worked for you.