Skip to main content

US carriers battle it out in new phone unlocking measures

The four-largest carriers in US have come up with a list of measures designed to make phone unlocking easier for their customers, following pressure from FCC and activist groups, among others.

The deadline for enforcing these measures passed last week, so how do AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile and Verizon fare today (opens in new tab)?

According to consumer rights activist Sina Khanifar, surprisingly to some, Verizon, which is the leading carrier in US, is the only player that implements all the measures. At the other end of the spectrum are T-Mobile and Sprint, which appear to be doing a shoddy job, only managing to implement half.

The measures that the big four have voluntarily agreed upon are a disclosure policy that is clear, concise and easily available to customers, a postpaid unlocking policy, a prepaid unlocking policy, eligibility notice, two business days response time, and, finally, a deployed personnel unlocking policy.

Of these six measures, which CTIA refers to as "principles", only one is enforced across the board, by all four carriers, and that is the two business days response time.

Verizon is actually leading the pack thanks to FCC, which forced the carrier to unlock its customers' phones back when it purchased licenses in the 700 MHz Block C auction.

AT&T comes right after Verizon in implementing these measures, with five out of six being implemented today. The only weak point is the eligibility notice part, which Khanifar says AT&T doesn't make clear whether it is implemented.

Sprint has issues with the first, second and sixth measures, failing to provide a clear, concise and easily available policy on its site. The carrier is also limiting postpaid unlocking to international use, and limiting the international unlock to a single device per year.

There is also a limit on the unlocking of phones used by personnel; if they have previously unlocked another device in the past year they won't be eligible. This limitation is said to be "well outside" CTIA's Consumer Code.

T-Mobile fares badly when it comes to the postpaid and prepaid unlocking policies as well as the response time. The carrier enforces some limitations upon prepaid customers, who cannot unlock more than two devices per line in a year, or devices which have been active for less than 40 days. Khanifar says that the latter practice is in violation of the aforementioned Consumer Code, when consumers have ended their contract in the meantime.

Also, only T-Mobile's prepaid customers with accounts "not [...] canceled and in good standing" can unlock their devices. And, finally, T-Mobile doesn't make it clear whether it is notifying eligible customers of the option to unlock their devices.

You can check out Khanifar's score-card below, and if you want to read more about the findings you can hit the link in the first paragraph for the whole report.


Image Credit: Robert Kneschke (opens in new tab)/Shutterstock (opens in new tab)