A lucky find during my trip to London has resulted in my Motorola V220 phone being unlocked, and now being a useful asset for my pending relocation to Seattle.
What am I talking about? Well, take a look at this Wikipedia article for a basic intro to SIM locking.
For those who prefer my history lesson:
The big tech in Canada and the US for cellphones is "CDMA". It works. But it's not very friendly to consumers. If you leave North America, you've got scant hope of getting your phone to work. Also, if you don't like the company you're with (or your company doesn't cover an area you want to go to), you're out of luck - get a new contract with a new company with a new phone.
In Canada, Bell and Telus are both CDMA-based.
* as a side note, CDMA issues aside, I hate Bell Mobility. With a passion! Six months of their billing system being horribly broken for EVERY customer, the rampant defects in many of the phones they offer (and, being CDMA, you have no other choices), and the charging me $200 cancellation on a finished contract and then insisting I'd have to call in a month later to have it fixed.
Of course, this was no good. So GSM was formed. GSM is what most of the world outside North America agreed on, and so pretty much anywhere that cell phones work, your GSM phone will likely find a network. Thankfully, despite pressure from US industries, and their lobbby organization the US Government, market forces have led to their being ample GSM coverage in North America. GSM is also nice in that all identifying characteristics of the phone are carried in a SIM card, a small device about the size of a dime that can be easily removed from your phone. So, want to switch cell companies? Take your phone, insert the SIM card from the new company, and TADA, your phone has switched to the new network. This is also useful if you want a local phone number when travelling, and various other uses.
In Canada, Rogers and Fido (recently acquired by Rogers, though I'm told by Rogers agents that their networks are not yet completely open access to each other) are GSM.
* I love Rogers Wireless. They treat me very well, and I wholeheartedly recommend them. I do not recommend other Rogers services, which piss me off. But Rogers Wireless is good.
Of course, the CDMA-centric companies can sell you phones, confidant that you will be locked into their lengthy contract. If you ever leave your contract, that expensive phone you bought is USELESS unless you rejoin them! They like that. GSM providers aren't happy that they don't get to be equally mean to consumers. So, the cell phone manufacturers added something called a "SIM lock". Basically, if you try and change the SIM card in your phone, the phone will refuse to work.
Now, back to the point at hand: unlocking. The benefits of being able to swap SIM cards is obvious, so how do we defeat the evil cell companies? We UNLOCK our phones!
In Canada, Rogers and Fido will (last I checked) both remove SIM locks at your request. They charge $200 for the service, which roughly matches the worst-case contract cancellation fee, and is more than the (no strings attached) purchase price of many cell phones. You can find a few places online that will do it, for a variety of prices, and terms. For certain "easy" phones, it's just a $5 typed code from the Internet, but for others, it takes dedicated hardware and serious knowhow. Many places will require you to send off your phone to a central office, leaving your cellphone with who-knows-who for days.
Well, if you're ever in London, stop by Masonville mall, across from the Shoppers Drug Mart. A cart has a guy who will unlock Motorola phones for $40. All other brands are $60. These prices are not great: the $60 is unreasonable I think. The $40 is similar to what I've seen elsewhere: I've heard of lots cheaper, but have yet to actually SEE a place that was able to follow through on-site cheaper for my V220. He did it in 15 minutes, and demonstrated with a Fido SIM. (one problem in Canada is that we only have two GSM providers, equalling only one possible test; plus in Masonville mall, Fido signal's very weak). So now, my phone will actually be useful when I move.
Please, if you know of a good on-site unlocker in your area, post in the comments! It will help others who are under the SIM lock and chain.
Okay, I was a little overzealous in my bashing of CDMA. Yes, you COULD switch providers if you wanted, if you could convince the new provider to accept your phone (ESN #?).
CDMA phones can also be "service provider" locked such that you could not use them on other networks, and unlocking them is therefore sometimes relevant. But CDMA STILL suffers from lack of strong overseas adoption. So there.
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