Getting Your Mobile Unlocked: How and Why?

by Dan Forster - , Last Updated on April 15, 2015, How To Guides

Ever heard of mobile locking? Don’t worry if you haven’t, that’s what we’re here for. We’re taking a look at the process of mobile locking, what it means, and how you can get your mobile unlocked (plus why you might want to in the first place). Keep reading for all you need to know about mobile locking and unlocking.

Wait, What’s Mobile Locking?

We’ll start with the basics. Mobile locking is the process that operators use to lock a phone onto their network. In simple terms it works like this: you get your phone (whether on contract or a full price pay as you go hand set) from a mobile operator, for the sake of example we’ll say that you buy from O2. What you probably don’t realise is that the phone you buy is locked to O2’s network. That means that if you try to put in a SIM card from another network, maybe Tmobile, it just won’t work.

Why do operators lock phones? There’s no clear answer to that one, though the most probable answer is just to make more money. As we’ll find out in a moment, operators will nearly always charge you money if you want to unlock your phone.

Why Would I Want to Unlock My Phone?

The simple reason for unlocking your phone is so that you can use it on another network. Maybe you’re ready to switch operators and sign a new contract, but you want to take your hand set with you. Or maybe you’re using pay as you go and want to benefit from better prices from another network. Maybe even you’re going on holiday and want to be able to put a local SIM card into your phone to save on mobile roaming fees. If you want to do any of these things, then you’re going to need an unlocked phone…

You should also be aware that even if you own your phone out right- by which we mean you paid full price at an operator for it, or your contract has finished and you’ve paid off the balance of your incentive phone- it will almost certainly still be locked to your operator. Yep, that’s right: you own your phone but you can’t use it with any operator you choose. Doesn’t sound fair really, does it?

How Do I Know If My Phone is Locked?

Knowing whether or not your phone is locked is simple. You can always ask your operator.  Alternatively, just borrow a SIM card from a different network from a friend and plug it into your phone. If your phone doesn’t work then chances are that it’s locked.

Is It Legal?

There’s some confusion here about the difference between unlocking and jailbreaking. Jail breaking is the process of over riding the operating system on your phone (usually on iPhones) so you can use your phone to download unauthorised apps, for example. This is legal, but often voids the warranty of your mobile. Unlocking is simply allowing your phone to access other mobile networks, and is not illegal in the slightest, nor will it effect the warranty of your phone (though it may effect things such as mobile insurance if you got that insurance from your operator, you’ll need to check with your network on this).

How Do I Get My Phone Unlocked?

There are two ways to unlock your phone. You’ll see companies advertising unlocking services, generally online, though sometimes in mobile repair shops as well. This is one option, though whether or not the service you use is reputable is up for question. If you’re looking for a safe and secure way to unlock your phone, then you’re best off going to your operator and letting them do it for you. Operators will generally allow you to unlock your phone, but you’ll need to ask them, and you’ll probably need to pay…

Unlocking Your Phone with Your Operator

Let’s take a look at unlocking your phone with some of the major UK networks. If you’re with Three, then we’ve got some good news for you, since December 2013 all of Three’s mobiles have been sold unlocked, and if you bought your mobile before then they’ll unlock it for free within seven working days. Simple.

If you’re with Tmobile, EE or Orange then you’ll need to pay £20.42 to have your phone unlocked, however you will only be allowed to unlock the phone after six months. O2 is a little more complicated. If you’ve got a contract phone it’s free to unlock, and will take around ten days. If you’ve got a pay as you go phone then you can only unlock after twelve months and it will cost you £15.

Vodafone will unlock a pay as you go phone any time you like, though if you’ve got a contract phone you’ll need to wait three months. In both cases you’ll have to pay £19.99 and wait around ten days. Finally, Virgin Mobile will unlock either a pay as you go phone or a contract phone at any time, but you’ll need to pay £15.32 and the process can take anything up to a month.

Other operators have varying rules, and some (such as Tesco Mobile) only lock certain hand sets, so you’ll have to ask with your network. What about if you’re no longer with the operator you bought the phone from? Not a problem. As long as you were the original account holder you can still get your phone unlocked, though you’ll need proof of ID.

Phone locking by operators has become a touchy subject of late, and there are campaigns to stop this process. In the meantime though, we’d recommend that you get your phone unlocked if at all possible. You never know when you’re going to want to use another operator’s SIM card, so it’s worth being prepared. Don’t forget about those waiting periods, you wouldn’t want to miss a great deal from another network just because you couldn’t use your current hand set…