Unlocked phones

If my unlocked phone is only GSM compatible, what is GSM?

GSM is a network used by wireless service providers. It stands for Global System for Mobile Communications and its main competition is the CDMA (Code Division Multiple Access) network.

GSM and CDMA used to differ in terms of signal quality and consistency. Eventually both improved to the point where there are very few differences between the two. Still, most cellular service providers only use either GSM or CDMA because it is very expensive to maintain both types of service.

For our purposes, this GSM/CDMA distinction is important because even unlocking your GSM phone will not make it compatible with a CDMA-only network. 

Why are phones locked in the first place?

The reason that your carrier locks phones is to keep their customers from switching to another carrier. Phone locks ensure that carriers keep your business until you buy a new phone from a different carrier.

When made to defend this practice, the carriers basically argued that locks help protect their property. You see, when you buy a phone on a contract, you’re actually not getting a phone for free or at a discount. Instead, you actually pay off the remaining cost of the device over the course of your two-year contract. So carriers say that locking that phone helps ensure that you fully repay them for the phone you bought by keeping you from wandering away to another service provider.

These locks are more and more important to carriers as new competition enters into the Canadian marketplace who might offer better deals to cell phone users. As a result, locked phones are becoming a point of tension between service providers and users.

Does unlocking affect my contract?

No. Contracts are not affected by the status of your phone. Unlocking merely allows your phone to be compatible for use with other carriers. You still are contractually obligated to continue your contract or risk paying early termination fees.

How does travel work with an unlocked phone?

When you take an unlocked phone to a different country, we recommend buying a SIM card for a local carrier. Activating your phone on a pay-as-you-go plan will allow you to pay local rates and avoid your home carrier’s roaming rates. This method will allow you to recoup the original cost of unlocking within the first few days of your trip.

Can I use an unlocked phone internationally?

Yes. An unlocked phone will work with any GSM compatible carrier abroad. GSM carriers make up about 93% of all wireless carriers internationally, so you shouldn’t have any problems locating one in the country of your destination. 

Please note: in some cases, you may only be able to receive 3G data when in a foreign country. 3G is a bit older than the most recent wireless network technologies and so is a bit slower too. LTE, which is the current standard, isn’t available everywhere yet. If you’re so inclined to read about why, we recommend this article

Why would I unlock my phone?

There are a number of benefits of unlocking your phone. If you’re a frequent traveller, then an unlocked phone is a must as it allows you to use a pre-paid SIM card for a local carrier, which helps you avoid astronomical roaming fees. 

Some users also prefer unlocked phones because of the flexibility that they give you with your carrier: if you bought your unlocked phone for full price (i.e. you did not buy it with a subsidy from your carrier), you can sign a month-to-month agreement with your carrier, and switch at your leisure – whether that’s a bad customer service call, to take advantage of a competitor’s offer, or because you’re leaving the country.

How does unlocking work?

Some phones are manufactured to be unlocked phones— these phones are called “factory unlocked” phones. Most phones, however, are manufactured with a software lock in the phone to make sure it can’t be used with any other carriers. These phones become unlocked when the carrier permanently removes or uninstalls the software lock, which can be done remotely on request from the phone’s owner. After this process, a factory unlocked phone is identical to a phone that has been unlocked after purchase. Orchard carries both factory unlocked and carrier unlocked phones, as these are the only permanent and legitimate types of unlocked phones.

What is an unlocked phone?

When you buy a phone on contract with a carrier, they install software so that the phone can only be used with that original carrier. These phones are “locked”. An unlocked phone is one that never had this software installed in the first place or has had this software uninstalled sometime after purchase. 

An unlocked phone has all the same great features as other phones, but allows you to switch between wireless carriers. A locked phone can only be used with the carrier it is locked to. An unlocked phone can be used with any GSM wireless network. Learn more about GSM networks here.