Told last month by Federal Communications Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler that the FCC would require carriers to unlock phones, if they didn’t agree to do so voluntarily, the major wireless carriers said that they will allow consumers to unlock their mobile phones after their contracts expire. Verizon Wireless, AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile and U.S. Cellular told the FCC through wireless association CTIA that they will adopt a new code that requires them to notify consumers when their phones are eligible for unlocking, and to then unlock devices for people at no charge.
The carriers will begin to implement the code within three months of its formal adoption; it’s not yet clear when that will occur. Unlocking cell phones allows them to be used on any compatible network. The CTIA notes in its letter, however, that even if carriers unlock phones, they won’t necessarily be compatible with all networks.
“An unlocked phone is not a fully interoperable phone,” the CTIA writes. “Carriers typically use different frequencies and air interface technologies to provide wireless network access.” Additionally, unlocking a device may enable some functionality of the device but not all.
Link to full text of CTIA’s letter to FCC.