Unlocked-iPhone 4S

As much as carriers would want to keep devices locked to their network to make switching service impossible, this is fortunately just a pipe dream. Last December, the United States Federal Communications Commission (FCC) was able to successfully pressure major U.S. wireless companies to agree to unlock their devices for use on other domestic networks.

The US House in February passed a device unlocking bill and now the nation’s third-largest wireless operator Sprint has responded by announcing it will make all of its devices released after February 11, 2015 unlockable for use on competitors’ wireless networks without repercussions…

As noted by MacRumors, an updated unlocking FAQ on Sprint’s website makes it clear that in accordance with its voluntary commitment contained within CTIA’s Consumer Code for Wireless Service (“Unlocking Commitment”) it is working to ensure that all devices developed and launched on or after February 11, 2015 are capable of being unlocked domestically.

For eligible devices, Sprint will unlock the SIM slot, to the extent that a device SIM slot is capable of being unlocked.

It is important to note that not all devices are capable of being unlocked, often because of the manufacturers’ device designs, and that even for those devices capable of being unlocked, not all device functionality may be capable of being unlocked.

Sprint cautions that devices manufactured with a SIM slot within the past three years can’t be unlocked to accept a different domestic carrier’s SIM for use on another domestic carrier’s network, which “includes all iPhone devices.”

“Sprint has no technological process available to do this,” notes the company. CDMA devices with no SIM card slot may not be eligible for unlocking because Sprint and Verizon networks use CDMA technology that’s incompatible with T-Mobile’s and AT&T’s GSM networks.

However, the ambiguous statement is misleading because people have been able to unlock their Sprint iPhone 4s and iPhone 5s devices for GSM use to work on T-Mobile without any problems.

This is possible because Verizon and Sprint iPhones have both CDMA and GSM functionality – that’s how Verizon has been able to sell unlocked iPhones (with a 2-year contract) since the iPhone 5. For those wondering, iPhones sold by AT&T and T-Mobile, as well as unlocked iPhones found in Apple stores, only support GSM.

As part of the agreement with the FCC, all five major U.S. carriers promised last December to implement the changes within 12 months – that is, by the start of 2015. Therefore, other carriers will follow Sprint’s lead whether they like it or not.

It’s worth pointing out that in many markets around the world carriers are obliged by law to sell phones unlocked or unlock them at the end of a two-year contract. In certain EU markets, for example, consumer laws prohibit carriers from refusing to unlock customers’ devices as the unpopular practice devaluates hardware.