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Buying An Unlocked Phone

Get up to speed on what it takes to become an unlocked phone user, with Abt's Guide to Buying an Unlocked Phone.
Buying an Unlocked PhoneBuying an Unlocked Phone

Getting Started

Considering the benefits of an Unlocked Phone? Dreaming of no longer being tied down to a carrier with a long term contract. The freedoms associated with an unlocked phone continue to grow, and those who have already made the switch will be the first to tell you they will never go back to the "traditional route" of going through a carrier. So, if not having a contract is speaking your language, then consider an unlocked phone and enjoy the ability to shop around for a provider that offers the best price and service available.

What is an Unlocked Cell Phone?

Unlocked phones are a less conventional way to get a cell phone connected to a network. Sometimes setting up an unlocked phone is as simple as sliding in a new SIM card from a service provider to start making calls and surfing the web. This means that the phone is not tethered to one specific carrier or contract and that it is up to the user to determine which plan is best for them. As you will read there are many benefits to using an unlocked phone, but it does come with a little more footwork for the user.

Types: CDMA vs. GSM

Unlocked Phone Types: CDMA vs. GSMUnlocked Phone Types: CDMA vs. GSM
This is the most important part of this process and you will want to pay special attention because there are two types of networks that will make or break your experience. These types are CDMA and GSM. Neither are interchangeable with each other; so when picking a phone, make sure it is compatible with the carrier you plan on using. Some newer phones are able to work with both types, so if you have a new phone it may be beneficial to do a bit more research to see if it is compatible.


CDMA phones do not use a sim card, the carriers information is stored on the phone, therefore phones with CDMA must be flashed (or reprogrammed) with new information in order to use a different CDMA network. Keep in mind, CDMA phones cannot be used on a gsm network, such as Sprint or Verizon, since there is no SIM card slot.


GSM stands for Global System for Mobile Communications and is widely considered the network standard for much of the world, including Europe and Asia. Of the four major carriers here the United States, only AT&T & T-Mobile use GSM. What makes GSM phones ideal for international use is that they offer the easiest way to swap carries, all you will need is a SIM card from a local GSM carrier in your unlocked phone to get service.

Other Things To Consider

International Use

Unlocked phones are great for international use. When abroad roaming charges can be astronomical from your American provider. With an Unlocked Phone, an easy solution to roaming charges is to pick up a sim card when you get to the country you are visiting; however, be sure to not accidentally throw away or misplace your original sim card, you will need it when you get back! Typically, these sim cards are available at the airport, however, they tend to be cheaper once you are in the town you plan to stay in. By just switching the sim card, unlocked phones let you keep using your own device no matter where you are in the world. This is ideal for tourists, international students and business travelers alike.

Lose the Long Term Contract

By making the jump to an unlocked phone you can say goodbye to carrier contracts the size of a phonebook. With an unlocked phone, you get to build your own data plan and since you won't be tied down to one specific provider, you have the option to shop around.
The truly amazing part of these plans is you can get a plan tailored to your specific needs. If you have a text crazy teen, you can get a plan with minimal minutes but unlimited texting. Or, if you are looking to stream content, a plan with bountiful data may be more up your alley. By losing the long-term contract, the options are ultimately limitless, so find a plan that best suits you.

Save Money

It would appear that the barrier to entry for an unlocked phone might be the higher price point upfront, compared to the "traditional route." Yet over the long run with an unlocked phone, you will see the return on investment. With the ability to tailor your service plan to suit your needs you won't have to overspend for features you won't be using. An additional unseen benefit is for people who have a habit of constantly breaking or misplacing their phones can upgrade their devices frequently, since all you have to do is switch out your sim card.

Larger Selection of Phones Available

With the "traditional route," you are restricted to a finite number of phones you can choose from. When you go for an unlocked phone you can potentially choose any phone you like. Since unlocked phones are not programmed to pair with just one network, you just have to find the right sim card that will go along with the network you use.

Further More

Can you keep your old phone number?

The short answer is yes. Thanks to the LNP act from the FCC you are able to port (or transfer) your number to a new carrier, however, the carrier doesn't have to accept your number, but most likely will. The process is as simple as calling your new carrier and ask to keep your old number. Make sure not to cancel your old plan before you port your number because you won't be able to transfer your number from a deactivated account. Also, know that there are some pre-paid services that will not let you bring over your old number.

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