Jewish World Review March 28, 2007 / 10 Nissan, 5767
Untethering cell phone from carrier
By Vicki Lee Parker
http://www.JewishWorldReview.com | (MCT) For years I've listened to cell phones users gripe about being forced to buy new, expensive devices when they switch companies or accidentally break their phones.
There is finally some relief, at least for some of us.
A little-noticed ruling by the U.S. Copyright Office in November allows customers to "unlock" phones that use GSM, or Global System for Mobile Communications, one of the dominant cellular technologies used worldwide.
So what does this mean for you and me?
Essentially, to unlock a cell phone means that consumers' phones are no longer tethered to one company. They can now use that phone with other GSM carriers' service.
Unfortunately, it doesn't apply to Alltel, Sprint, Verizon or Nextel, which use a different cellular technology.
But for customers of Cingular, T-Mobile, Suncom and other carriers that use GSM, the news can amount to big savings, said Sascha Segan, a mobile phone analyst at PC Magazine.
"This gives those consumers more flexibility and options, especially for people who have to pay hundreds of dollars for a new phone when they switch carriers," he said.
Now, if you want a certain Sony Ericsson cellular phone or you find a cheap one on eBay that you prefer - go for it, as long as it has the right technology.
If you are thinking about switching to another carrier and want to keep your current phone, there are ways you can have it unlocked. The first step should be to call your carrier and ask them to unlock it, Segan said.
If the company asks why, Segan recommends that customers say they are planning an overseas trip. Companies might decline to unlock it if they think you are about to switch to a competitor, he said.
If that doesn't work, there are some Web sites that will help unlock your phone for a fee of $15 to $50, depending on how difficult it is to unlock.
Some will simply e-mail you a code, while others might mail you a cable to unlock it. Very high-tech phones may require you to mail in the phone.
"If you have a phone that you paid $200 or more, it might be worth spending $50 to unlock it," Segan said.
Here are few Web sites that sell help: www.cellcorner.com/xshp/home.php, www.gsmliberty.net/shop and www.iunlock.com/shop.
For the rest of us who are not GSM customers, there may be some hope.
Segan said that Verizon has agreed to allow new customers to keep their current phones as long as they match its technology.
Alltel and Sprint haven't made such offers, but market competition has a remarkable way of encouraging change.
Consumers do have power. I bet we could loosen them up if we all threaten to switch to a more flexible company.
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Vicki Lee Parker is a columnist for The News & Observer. Comment by clicking here.
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