Consumers often question why they may not have the choice of using their existing mobile wireless device when they change between compatible wireless service providers.  The answer is usually a practice called cellphone locking and it is about to change.

On February 11, 2014, CTIA-The Wireless Association adopted six standards on unlocking into the CTIA Code for Wireless Service.  Implementation of these six standards by major mobile wireless service providers will give consumers greater freedom and flexibility while increasing competition among service providers to innovate.  Participating wireless service providers will implement three of these six standards by May 11, 2014, and all of these standards by February 11, 2015.

Once these standards are fully implemented, your service provider will unlock your postpaid mobile device upon request, provided the terms and conditions of your service contract or installment plan have been met and your account is in good standing.  Service providers will unlock prepaid wireless devices no later than one year after initial activation, consistent with reasonable time and usage requirements. Service providers will clearly notify you when your device is eligible for unlocking if the device is not automatically unlocked.  Additionally, your service provider will post on its website a clear, concise, and easily found policy on mobile wireless device unlocking.

In an effort to help consumers better understand these new standards and other details about unlocking mobile wireless devices, the FCC has created a new consumer education website and a Frequently Asked Questions consumer’s guide.  The website also describes technological challenges consumers might face as they make choices about services for their previously locked devices.  For example, service providers often utilize different technologies to provide wireless services.  As a result, not all devices – locked or unlocked – are compatible with all networks.  Moreover, even when providers utilize the same network technology to provide service, an unlocked device may not work as well on a different network; it is possible that some features and functionalities will work differently or not at all. 

As we move forward with these new device unlocking standards the Wireless Telecommunications and Consumer and Governmental Affairs Bureaus will work together to help mobile consumers make educated choices.