text.skipToContent text.skipToNavigation

Tell us what you think! Provide Feedback

Flash Wireless

Wireless Carrier Unlocking Policy

1. Background

For years, carriers have locked phones to their networks to make it more difficult for customers to switch carriers. Starting February 1 2015, Verizon Wireless, AT&T Mobility, Sprint and T-Mobile US agreed to let customers who have fulfilled their contracts unlock their phones and tablets and move to another carrier. Once postpaid customers finish their service contracts on postpaid plans, carriers, upon request, must unlock customers' phones within two business days. In terms of prepaid phones, carriers, upon request, must unlock prepaid phones no later than one year after activation. Carriers can also charge non-customers a "reasonable" fee to unlock phones.

Carriers must notify postpaid customers when their devices are eligible for unlocking, but prepaid customers must only be told at the time they purchase their phone.

2. Carrier's Policy

Carriers typically use different frequencies and air interface technologies to provide wireless network access. Accordingly, a device that works on one carrier’s network may not be technologically compatible with another carrier’s network. “Unlocking” a device refers only to disabling software that would prevent a consumer from attempting to activate a device designed for one carrier’s network on another carrier’s network, even if that network is technologically compatible. In other words, “unlocking” a device will not necessarily make a device interoperable with other networks – a device designed for one network is not made technologically compatible with another network merely by “unlocking” it. Additionally, unlocking a device may enable some functionality of the device but not all (e.g., an unlocked device may support voice services but not data services when activated on a different network).

2.1 Verizon

Verizon locks non-iPhone Global Ready 3G phones and will unlock upon request. Prepaid devices are restricted for Verizon’s Prepaid service for 6m after activation (removed automatically), and are locked to Verizon Wireless network for 12m after activation (upon request)

2.2 AT&T

General Requirements for All Unlock Requests:

  • Device must not be reported lost or stolen
  • Device is not associated with fraudulent activity
  • All the device’s service commitments and installment plans are completed, and all early termination fees are paid in full
  • The device is not currently active on a different account

AT&T will send unlock instructions upon request within two business days. If the customer performed an early upgrade, he must wait the 14-day buyer’s remorse period before he can request to unlock the previous device. The account must be active for at least 60 days, with no past due or unpaid balance. AT&T reserves the right to deny any unlock request that it concludes would result in an abuse of this policy or is part of an effort to defraud AT&T or its customers. AT&T reserves the right to alter unlocking policy at its discretion without advance notice.

Prepaid devices must be active for at least six months of paid service before unlocking.

2.3 Sprint

2.3.1 Unlock for Domestic Usage

Sprint will unlock a device from Sprint's network under the following circumstances:

  • Any associated Service Agreement, Installment Billing Agreement, or Lease Agreement has been fulfilled including payment in full of any applicable early termination fees or end-of-lease purchase options.
  • The associated account is in good standing
  • The device has not been reported as lost or stolen, associated with fraudulent activity, or otherwise flagged as ineligible to be unlocked

Devices that were launched prior to February 2015 and are capable of being unlocked, Sprint will provide a bill notification and/or text message when the customer is eligible to have the device unlocked. The bill notification will direct the customer to Sprint Customer Care who can assist in efforts to unlock the device. There are generally two scenarios for locking / unlocking:

  • Master Subsidy Lock (MSL) unlocking: A device is 'locked' if it is manufactured with a type of disabling software and a locking code (MSL). For devices launched before February 2015, Sprint utilized a MSL that locks the device to certain operational parameters for use on Sprint's network and prevents the device from attempting to be activated on other carriers' networks. Not all Sprint devices have an MSL code or a locking function that can be unlocked by Sprint and on certain devices, not all functionality may be unlocked. Devices which the owner has attempted to reprogram or activate on another carrier's network or otherwise altered from its initial programming or settings may not be able to be reactivated on the Sprint network.
  • SIM Unlocking: A device may also be referred to as 'locked' if that device was manufactured with programming restrictions that prevent another carrier's SIM card from being inserted into the SIM slot for use on a different network (generally devices launched February 2015 or later). For domestic SIM unlock or DSU (Domestic SIM Unlock), capable devices launched after February 2015, the SIM locking has restrictions, and Sprint's ability to unlock these devices or work with the manufacturer of the device to unlock the SIM slot vary. For inactive devices, customers must contact Sprint Customer Care to request that their DSU-capable device be unlocked.

Prepaid devices must be active for at least six months of paid service before unlocking.

2.3.2 Unlock for International Usage

For certain devices which are engineered to include a SIM slot, Sprint may be able to unlock the device SIM slot for a foreign carrier's SIM card to be inserted. Customers must contact Sprint and must meet the following conditions:

  • The device is capable of international SIM unlock
  • The person requesting the international SIM unlock is a current Sprint customer that can authenticate as the Account Holder or an Authorized Contact
  • The applicable device is currently active on a Sprint account and the applicable account has been active for at least 90 days.
  • The account is in good standing
  • The subscriber with which the device is associated has not previously unlocked another device within the past 12 months.
  • If the account is an ASL (Account Spending Limit) account:
    • There is no unfulfilled Service Agreement associated with the line of service.
    • There is no outstanding Installment Billing Agreement balance associated with the device.

Requesting an international unlock will not unlock a DSU-capable device for use with domestic (U.S.) SIMs. International SIM unlock is done through Sprint Worldwide Care 1-888-226-7212.

2.3.3 Unlock Devices Matrix

The chart below explains the policies and capabilities of popular devices:

  Domestic Unlock International Unlock
Device Master Subsidy Lock (MSL) Code Unlock Domestic SIM Unlock (DSU) International SIM Unlock (ISU)
Apple iPhone 4S X   X
Apple iPhone 5 X   X
Apple iPhone 5S1   X X
Apple iPhone 5C1   X X
Apple iPhone 61   X X
Apple iPhone 6 Plus1   X X
Samsung GS3 X    
Samsung GS4 X   X
Samsung GS5 X   X
Samsung GS5 Sport X   X
Samsung Note 3 X   X
Samsung Note 4 X   X
Samsung Edge X   X
LG 3 X   X
LG Flex X   X
HTC One X   X

1Domestic SIM Unlock capable as of 2/19/15

2.4 T-Mobile

Device eligibility is determined as follows:

  • The device must not be reported as lost, stolen or blocked to T-Mobile.
  • The account associated with the device must be in good standing.
  • The customer have requested no more than 2 mobile device unlock codes per line of service in the last 12 months.
  • Customer may need a non-T-Mobile and non-MetroPCS SIM card to insert in the phone.
  • T-Mobile may request proof of purchase or additional information in its discretion and certain other exceptions may apply.
  • The device must satisfy all the Postpaid or Prepaid Unlocking terms outlined below.
  • Unlock eligibility for PostPaid Devices
    • The device must have been active on the T-Mobile network for at least 40 days on the requesting line.
    • If the device is financed using T-Mobile’s Equipment Installment Plan, all payments must be satisfied and the device must be paid in full.
    • If the device is on an account that is under a service contract term, at least 18 consecutive monthly payments must have been made or the account has migrated to Simple Choice no contract rate plan.
    • If the device is associated with a canceled account, the account balance must be zero, including all pending charges
  • Unlock eligibility for PrePaid Devices
    • The device has been active on the T-Mobile network for more than 1 year on the requesting line.
    • If the device has been active for less than 1 year on the requesting line, the account associated with the device must have had more than $25 in refills for basic phones or $100 in refills for smart phones or tablet since device first use date.
    • The account must not be canceled and in good standing.

3. Unlocking Information

Unlocking a phone lets it work on any compatible network, regardless of carrier. An unlocked phone can be moved to another network, though that does not mean that it will work exactly the same way on another network due to differences in the spectrum bands used by carriers and the corresponding radios and chipsets in devices.

3.1 Unlocking Rules and Restrictions

The Matrix below describes the rules and restrictions each carrier has defined. NA means the carrier didn’t mention it in their website.

  Verizon AT&T Sprint T-Mobile
Device must not be reported lost or stolen NA Yes Yes Yes
Device is not associated with fraudulent activity NA Yes Yes NA
Account is in good standing NA Yes Yes Yes
All payments paid in full NA Yes Yes Yes
Not active on a different account NA Yes NA NA
Device is eligible # days after upgrade NA 14d NA NA
Device is eligible # days after account is active NA 60d NA 40d
Max # of unlock codes per LOS in the last 12 months NA NA NA 2
If line under contract term, # of monthly payments NA NA NA 18m
Prepaid: # of months account is active 12m 6m 6m 12m2

2If less 12m, the account associated with the device must have had more than $25 in refills for basic phones or $100 in refills for smart phones or tablet since device first use date.

3.2 Codes and Customer Care

The matrix below describes the required codes and customer care for each carrier.

Carrier Lock Devices? Code Needed?3 Programming Help
Verizon Lock only non-iPhone Global Ready 3G phones 000000 or 123456 *611 or 1-800-922-0204 Unlock 1-800-711-8300
AT&T Yes Yes send unlock instructions upon request Web Form
Sprint - device was launched prior to February 2015 Yes Yes Contact Customer Care 1-888-211-4727
Sprint - device was launched Lock after February 2015 Yes No - automatically when device becomes eligible Contact Customer Care 1-888-211-4727
T-Mobile Yes Yes Contact T-Mobile Customer Service or download "Device Unlock" from Google Play - for Android devices only. Unlock 1-877-746-0909

3Code will be sent in bill message and/or text message.

3.3 Deployed Military Personnel

3.3.1 Restrictions

AT&T will unlock an AT&T wireless device for an active and deployed member of the military who meets the following requirements:

  • Current AT&T customer under contract or have a NEXT installment plan (not applicable to former customers).
  • Customer meets the AT&T general requirements, except those related to the device's service commitments, installment plans and early termination fees.
  • AT&T, at its sole discretion, may limit the number of devices military personnel can unlock.

Sprint has established a favorable unlocking policy:

  • The device is capable of international SIM unlock
  • The subscriber is an active member of a branch of the United States military and has been issued overseas deployment papers
  • Current Sprint customer (Account Holder or an Authorized Contact)
  • The account is in good standing
  • The subscriber with which the device is associated has not previously unlocked another device within the past 12 months

T-Mobile allows unlocking for deployed military personnel who are customers in good standing are eligible to have their devices unlocked upon provision of deployment papers. Exceptions to some or all requirements may apply in other circumstances for Business and Government Accounts. T-Mobile did not provide additional information on their website and referred customers to Customer Care.