How to Unlock Your Postpaid Phone


Last week, President Obama signed the Unlocking Consumer Choice and Wireless Competition Act, which makes unlocking your phone from your cell carrier legal. This is great news if you are getting out of a contract and wanting to go with a cheaper prepaid option, but the move has spawned quite a bit of confusion over exactly what it means to ‘unlock’ a phone. While I am not an expert, I can hopefully answer some of those questions.

Why do I need to “Unlock” my phone?

When you purchase a phone with a postpaid contract through a carrier, sometimes the software on phone will be locked into that specific carrier so that it will function only with their network. So, basically ‘unlocking’ your phone will make the phone able to work with other networks. This doesn’t mean that you can utilize both AT&T and Verizon’s networks at the same time–more than the phone is capable of using either with the right SIM card. So if you have an expensive phone purchased through a previous network and you want to switch, then you’ll need to unlock it first. Note that if you are wanting to travel overseas, you’ll also have to unlock your phone but many times the process is different. Check with your carrier to see how that works.

How do I unlock my phone?

Update: T-Mobile has launched an app designed to unlock your phone. Currently it is still in beta, and Geekwire reports it only works on the Samsung Galaxy Avant. However, as they work out the kinks, it might make calling your carrier unnecessary… Each major carrier has different requirements and rules about unlocking a phone. For all of these, the phone cannot be reported as lost or stolen and you must not owe any money on the phone. Here are the rules and criteria you have to meet before you are eligible to get your phone unlocked:


  • Device must be designed to work on AT&T network
  • Must be a current or former customer in good standing
  • Device must not be on contract
  • For postpaid, must have been active for 60 days
  • For prepaid, must have been active for 6 months


  • Must be a T-Mobile device
  • Account associated with device is in good standing
  • Postpaid phones must have been active for at least 40 days
  • If on an account, must have at least 18 consecutive payments
  • Prepaid phones must be active for more than 1 year OR
  • Have had more than $25 in refills for basic phones/$100 for smartphones or tablets since device first use date


  • Must be a current or former account holder
  • Account must be in good standing
  • Device must not be on contract
  • Payments must be current
  • Device must be able to be unlocked (some Sprint phones simply cannot be unlocked due to design)
  • Prepaid devices cannot be unlocked


  • Postpaid 4G devices are not locked, no action is required
  • Postpaid 3G devices can be reprogrammed with the code “123456” or “000000” for use with another carrier. Check your phone instructions or call Verizon
  • Prepaid phones (not in a box) are not locked. Use the code “000000” or “123456” to reprogram.
If you meet the above requirements, then all you have to do is call your carrier. Be sure to have your phone/account number ready. Additional information, like proof of purchase or your IMEM number may be required. The time it takes to unlock a phone varies from company to company, but expect it to take anywhere from 2 days to a week or so on average.

What about my boxed prepaid phone? Can I unlock that?

Depends on your carrier. T-Mobile does not have any specific instructions for boxed phones, so the same rules as listed above presumably apply. AT&T will unlock a prepaid phone that has been active for at least 6 months. No additional rules for boxed prepaid are listed. Sprint cannot unlock prepaid devices. Verizon will unlock prepaid box phones for use within their network after 6 months, and will unlock for use on other networks after a year. Contact Verizon at (888)294-6804 or by dialing *611 from your Verizon phone for details.

Great! So I can use my phone on any network now, right?

Well, no, probably not. That’s a pretty common misconception. The United States, for whatever reason, actually has two different types of wireless networks: GSM and CDMA. They are completely incompatible. And each of those networks has different 3G and 4G bands that it uses. So your phone not only has to work with the right network, but it also has to be able to receive the right bands on that network to function to its full potential. For example, AT&T and T-Mobile both use GSM. The common bands that AT&T supports are: 700/1700/2100. T-Mobile, on the other hand, only supports 1700/2100. So that means that a T-Mobile phone might not be able to pick up the 700 band that AT&T uses and might not function the same. Maybe. Because, to make things more complicated, matching up numbers between phones might not be enough. Even your phone uses the same bands, it might not be able to access them simultaneously. There are a lot of factors involved in phone networks and until everything is a little more streamlined, make sure you do your research.

So what do I do?

The best thing to do is, honestly, just to call your carrier and check if the phone is compatible. There’s nothing worse than going through all the motions to get your phone unlocked just to find out it won’t work.    ]]>

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  1. oliver brown on December 30, 2014 at 2:15 am

    Very informative post and i appreciate your concern towards readers of your blog as you provide them information with risk assessment that is a great thing. I should also recommend not to unlock the phone until you find out that it is a unlock compatible device.