Wireless carriers, FCC finally close deal to allow cell phone unlocking for consumers

From 9to5Google:


Update: Well, would you look at that, just moments after reports of a deal being near comes the news that a deal has actually been reached. The CTIA has posted a PDF document that reveals some of the agreed upon terms of the negotiations. The bottom line is no matter what, this is a major win for consumers and the overall industry even if the carriers are probably steaming over the deal.

  • Disclosure: Each carrier will post on its website its clear, concise, and readily accessible policy on postpaid and prepaid mobile wireless device unlocking.
  • Postpaid Unlocking Policy: Carriers, upon request, will unlock mobile wireless devices or provide the necessary information to unlock their devices for their customers and former customers in good standing and individual owners of eligible devices after the fulfillment of the applicable postpaid service contract, device financing plan or payment of an applicable early termination fee.
  • Prepaid Unlocking Policy: Carriers, upon request, will unlock prepaid mobile wireless devices no later than one year after initial activation, consistent with reasonable time, payment or usage requirements.
  • Notice: Carriers that lock devices will clearly notify customers that their devices are eligible for unlocking at the time when their devices are eligible for unlocking or automatically unlock devices remotely when devices are eligible for unlocking, without additional fee. Carriers reserve the right to charge non-customers/non-former customers a reasonable fee for unlocking requests. Notice to prepaid customers may occur at point of sale, at the time of eligibility, or through a clear and concise statement of the policy on the carrier’s website.
  • Response Time: Within two business days after receiving a request, carriers will unlock eligible mobile wireless devices or initiate a request to the OEM to unlock the eligible device, or provide an explanation of why the device does not qualify for unlocking, or why the carrier reasonably needs additional time to process the request.
  • Deployed Personnel Unlocking Policy: Carriers will unlock mobile wireless devices for deployed military personnel who are customers in good standing upon provision of deployment papers.
  • Carriers reserve the right to decline an unlock request if they have a reasonable basis to believe the request is fraudulent or the device is stolen.

The deal includes five major carriers: AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, US Cellular, and Verizon and it appears of the terms will be implemented within the next 12 months. The agreement has been presented to the FCC, though it lacks word on what will happen to consumers who attempt to unlock devices prior to the end date of their contract. However, there is now a clear and concise message for cell phone unlocking in the US and the timelines for each type of customer.

This is a win-win for consumers and I for one, couldn’t be any happier.


FTC: We use income earning auto affiliate links. More.

You’re reading 9to5Mac — experts who break news about Apple and its surrounding ecosystem, day after day. Be sure to check out our homepage for all the latest news, and follow 9to5Mac on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn to stay in the loop. Don’t know where to start? Check out our exclusive stories, reviews, how-tos, and subscribe to our YouTube channel


  1. Dillon Baio - 9 years ago

    But carriers already unlock devices upon customer request it if they’re out of contract. What does this change?

    • Many don’t. For years nobody was unlocking Apple products, but now they have to.

    • rahhbriley - 9 years ago

      Some do with a bit of a headache. Not all do, and it’s a confusing difficult process. Most turn to questionable services on line (some legit, some aren’t, I love Chronicunlocks). And most normal consumers that don’t read and comment on tech blogs really don’t know where to start. This is frankly needed. There needed to be clear cut, and well communicated standards. Consumers often complained and didn’t get any help. Why am I still trying to explain this…you reallllly don’t get it? Was that a facetious or rhetorical question?? The more I type the more I just don’t get how that was a serious question.

      • Dillon Baio - 9 years ago

        I mean AT&T has a section of their website where you can specifically request a device unlock if it’s out of contract, so I just assumed it was a simple process to do so for the major carriers. And AT&T’s clearly spells out the eligibility requirements and even allows former customers to have up to five of their devices unlocked. My impression was that since AT&T’s process is clearly outlined and is simple to do, the other major carriers probably also had that process. https://www.att.com/deviceunlock/client/en_US/

      • Dillon Baio - 9 years ago

        At least for AT&T, the only two things I see that it changes are the facts that AT&T does not specifically notify customers their devices can be unlocked once they go out of contract, and now instead of within 2-5 days the process must be done within 2. Everything else is already being followed and for anyone who actually wants their device to be unlocked, either by already knowing devices can be unlocked or through googling to find out how to use a device on another carrier and learning about unlocking, is not hindered in any way by the current implementation that they will not be by the new one. So to conclude, for AT&T customers this isn’t some huge win in a battle of carrier vs customer, there are just tiny little changes that don’t make much of a difference. For other carries, since I just assumed their processes would be similarly standardized considering they are major carriers, things may be getting a lot more user-friendly. What the FCC really needs to do is something regarding the insane prices of services such as texting. I do not understand why the price of text message plans is so insanely expensive. It can’t possibly cost that much to send such trivial amounts of data, even when in the thousands of messages.

      • rahhbriley - 9 years ago

        Amen. Couldn’t agree more about the data.

    • Howeird Dstrange - 9 years ago

      Oh do tell, I’ve just spent hours on line to U.S.Cellular and their response in no way they will unlock the Kyocera Hydro that I have that is not under any contract so you are mistaken or you have a better carrier than U.S. Cellular.

  2. Daniel Eliasson - 9 years ago

    So is this US only? Or will this apply in Europe also?

  3. Ray Watson (@rayjwatson) - 9 years ago

    First of all, the disclosure provision is definitely new and not something the carriers are going to necessarily like. “Carriers that lock devices will clearly notify customers that their devices are eligible for unlocking at the time when their devices are eligible for unlocking or automatically unlock devices remotely when devices are eligible for unlocking, without additional fee” Secondly, I believe the provision mandating unlocks for prepaid customers is new as well. Finally, this deal requires certain practices to be consistent across carriers which means that consumers are more likely yo understand it.

  4. Orin (@Orin66151662) - 9 years ago

    my Aunty Natalie got an awesome blue Audi S5 Coupe by working online. this page………. Tec202. COM

  5. Kalyan Chakravarthi - 9 years ago

    I fail to understand how this changes anything as of today. It would have made sense 4 years ago when ATT would ignore a request to unlock an iPhone.

    What consumers need is a way to unlock their phone ahead of their contract expiration as long as their account is in good standing and they are obliged to continue their monthly payments.
    This would help a consumer use his own iPhone (legally unlocked) on a different carrier or during international travel without paying ridiculous money to ATT

  6. Robert Rooney - 9 years ago

    Pfffft! No wonder AT&T was suddenly threatening to stop subsidies of phones! They knew this was coming!

  7. Daniel (@dgp1) - 9 years ago

    Does this apply to carriers other than the big 5?? And if not, why not? I’m curious about carriers like Tracfone for example, which use locking ruthlessly. Their handsets are locked and they will never unlock a handset period. But also even their SIM cards are also locked—you can’t even BYOD even though most of their phones are (AT&T or T-Mobile network) GSM phones.

  8. Scott (@ScooterComputer) - 9 years ago

    This is really toothless. First off, what are the penalties? None that I could see. Second, there doesn’t seem to be any rules that stop the carriers from going to the manufacturers and saying “Hey, only sell us a locked phone.” Apple was already basically doing that when all this started. AT&T claimed that it COULD NOT unlock the iPhone, which was BS. Third, it doesn’t address the FLIP side of the unlock problem: FORCING the carriers to provision unlocked devices on their network. So this basically is a Win for AT&T and T-Mo, and a Win for Verizon and Sprint. But not for the consumer who buys an unlocked device. AT&T and T-Mo stand to gain customers of devices that VWZ and Sprint won’t allow on their network. VZW and Sprint get to continue to lock customers into contracts. Only T-Mo really at the disadvantage, but they seem to be OK with that because they’ve already pushed ahead with the no-contract business model. Finally, it kinda appears to indicate that PrePay doesn’t HAVE to tell you at point of sale if the device is or will be locked, just that they MAY. Riiiiiight, I’ll trust the carrier to be upfront with me.

    This is a joke. Also note that it did NOT accompany any kind of “sense of the FCC” that the Librarian of Congress needs to reverse the anti-Unlock provision that was passed earlier this year. So, no ultimate consumer safe-guard.

  9. Felonius NoSpamius - 9 years ago

    So the government believes we should have a choice in cell carrier, but not a choice in healthcare providers or service. Nice.

  10. spokanite - 9 years ago

    Really, this is completely moot in the US anyhow. 4 major carriers (and pretty much all others are just MVNOs using those 4), all using incompatible frequencies and technologies. Go ahead, get your Sprint phone unlocked. Take it to AT&T, or Verizon. See what happens.