Those who have travelled to a foreign country with a carrier-branded device, or tried to use their phone on a different operator in the US, would have realized that their devices were locked. While most carriers did honor unlock requests in the past, or sell their handsets unlocked (like Verizon, mostly), there was no universal policy on the practice in America. This is expected to change after February 11th.
The CTIA (which is basically the special interest group) is laying out a set of phone unlocking (that is, SIM/network unlocking) principles that AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile, Sprint, and US Cellular will abide by in the wake of the congressional un-banning of phone unlocking.
You can read the full FCC guide on the CTIA's changes here, but here are the key features for reference.
What does the CTIA define as an "unlocked" device?It appears that CTIA is referring to a full SIM unlocked device. Carriers like Sprint that historically had offered unlocking only for international travel (but still restricting domestic usage) now must fully unlock their devices for domestic use, as well. The exception is Sprint phones launched before February 11th - those devices can only be internationally unlocked, but will still have a domestic lock (eg, unable to be used on AT&T, T-Mobile, Verizon, or any other domestic network).
Where can I find individual carrier unlocking policies?
Will I be able to immediately unlock my device on February 11?Yes, but only if your phone is paid off or your contract term is completed - and your account is in good standing. If you're currently on an installment plan to pay off your phone (Next, JUMP, Edge, Easy Pay), your carrier is not obligated to unlock the phone until all installments are paid in full. If you bought your phone on a subsidized 2-year service agreement, the carrier doesn't have to unlock it until that 2-year period is up or you terminate the contract and pay an ETF. Oh, and even if you are eligible, carriers have 48 hours to complete the request.
How will I know when I can unlock my device?The new policy requires carriers to provide you notice when the phone is eligible for unlocking, and do so in a "clear" way. Obviously carrier's won't be happy to provide anyone obvious notice that they're no longer obligated to be their customer anymore, so it will be interesting to see how this works out. The other catch is that if you're a prepaid subscriber, the carrier only has to let you know when the phone can be unlocked at the time of sale, no future notices are required.
Can I unlock my device before I am eligible?While you can also try asking your carrier nicely, there are services on the web offering paid unlocking services for most GSM (T-Mobile, AT&T) carrier-branded smartphones. Costs range anywhere from $10 up to $50+ depending on the phone, carrier, and how quickly you want the device unlocked. Unlocking services for Verizon or Sprint devices are harder to find and generally more expensive.
Wont my device automatically unlock when it becomes eligible?Only Sprint has gone so far as to say they will automatically unlock phones after the contract or installment plan is fulfilled (fine print: phone must have been sold after February 2015). All other providers require you to submit a request. Again, most Verizon devices are SIM unlocked out of the box, but the few that aren't will require contacting Verizon. AT&T, T-Mobile, and US Cellular all require "requests" for unlocking, but T-Mobile ships an app on its newer phones specifically to unlock the device that should work at the time it becomes eligible, so it's only a "request" in the technical sense.
Will I be charged for unlocking a device?Only if you are not currently a customer of the carrier which you are petitioning to unlock a phone. Then, the carrier may charge a "reasonable" fee to unlock the device. Unfortunately we don't know how much they will charge for providing this service. The good news is that the new rules require the carriers unlock eligible phones (not a bad IMEI, payments fulfilled) regardless of whether you are or were their customer, they just can charge you for the privilege.
What if I am a prepaid customer?All of the big four's prepaid brands are participating in this new policy. That means AT&T GoPhone, T-Mobile Prepaid, MetroPCS, Verizon Prepaid, Virgin Mobile, Boost Mobile, and Sprint Prepaid. However, the requirements for prepaid customers are different. Prepaid phones must be unlockable after 1 year from purchase (before that is fine, too), but carriers can add requirements that the phone has been used with a paid account during that time. The requirements need to be "reasonable," but that's about as clear as mud.
Which carrier has the best / most consumer-friendly unlocking policy?Verizon, surprisingly. Almost all of Verizon's modern phones are sold SIM unlocked out of the box, and work with GSM carriers around the world, and even on AT&T and T-Mobile (though T-Mobile HSPA+ coverage may be poor).
Which carrier has the worst unlocking policy?AT&T, unsurprisingly. AT&T requires consumers submit an online request to unlock a device, with their phone number, IMEI number, the account holder's first and last name, the last 4 of your SSN, your AT&T account password, email address, and - just to insult you a bit - a captcha.
If you have more questions, feel free to add them in the comment section below and we will update this article accordingly.
source - AndroidPolice