Cell Phone Unlocking Explained

Cell phone unlocking explainedCellular service providers do something known as “locking” to all the cell phones that will be used on their network by instructing the cell phone manufacturers like Samsung to lock the phone via software before the phone ever leaves the factory. What this does is prevent you from using your cell phone on any other network than the one it was originally activated with.

This practice severely limits both your flexibility in choosing another service provider and the resale value of your phone because you can only sell it to other people subscribed to the same network as you are. Fortunately, locking is a simple software-only gatekeeper that is designed to be easily undone if you enter the correct unlock code into your device.

Why Phones Are Locked

There are a few good reasons why phones are locked to begin with but really it is just a way for the cell phone companies to squeeze you for more money. They want to make it difficult for you to switch providers so that you will continue feeding them money every month.

Your New Phone Isn’t Really Free

Most phones except the highest end models can often be obtained for “free” when you sign a contract. In Canada, contracts are now typically 2 years long which was recently adjusted down from 3 years because of a new code of conduct introduced by the CRTC that enforces shorter contracts.

However, the phone isn’t really free of course. A brand new top of the line smartphone actually costs around $700 and lower cost models typically cost in the $300 to $500 range. That’s a lot of money you aren’t paying when you buy a new phone, eh? That’s because the cell phone service provider pays the manufacturer for you and then sets aside a sizeable portion of your bill every month towards recouping their cost of paying the manufacturer on your behalf.

Related: HOT - New Android Smartphone For $50 NO CONTRACT (Use With Any Provider)!

For that reason, they need some way to guarantee that you won’t just walk away with your brand new and very expensive phone without giving them time to recoup their initial losses.

Why You Should Unlock Your Phone

There are many reasons why unlocking your phone can be beneficial and the best part is that unlocking your phone is completely legal in Canada anytime you want to!

Your Plan Is Too Expensive

So imagine your contract is nearing an end and your cell phone company has recouped all of the money they spent to purchase your phone plus a sizeable profit to boot, now what happens? Part of the reason your plan costs up to $60 a month or more is because there is subsidy cost built into the price of $14-$20 per month. Therefore, shouldn’t your plan drop in cost by that amount after the contract expires?

One would hope that would be the case, but it isn’t. They will continue to happily take advantage of that extra amount you are now paying each and every month for the same services and just use it to pad their bottom line relying on your locked-in status to keep you as a customer.

Avoid Costly And Inflexible Contracts

Knowing how to unlock a phone or unlocking your existing phone can help you avoid contracts in the following ways:

  • When your contract is over you can keep your existing phone and use it with another carrier.
  • If you break or lose your phone you can easily buy and unlock a used phone or get one from a friend without having to sign a new contract to get a replacement.
  • Use an unlocked phone right from the start and never sign a contract to begin with.

If you’re stuck in a contract you always have to worry about stiff cancellation penalties if you cancel your service for any reason. Without a contract, you don’t have to worry about cancelling your service when money gets tight, when you have to move to another province or country, or when your phone dies or disappears and you can afford to buy a new one at the full price. Who needs that stress?

Related: How to Minimize Your Monthly Cell Phone Bill with a Smartphone and a Data Plan

Cheaper Plans

Having an unlocked phone gives you the freedom to choose any plan with any provider at any time. Not all plans have a subsidy cost built in, like most prepaid plans for example. With those plans you can pay more for the phone upfront and get a cheaper plan or pay as you go option.

There are also certain times of year when cell phones and plans go on sale. Just before Christmas in late November and back to school time are typically the best times to shop for a new cell phone or provider because that’s when the competition for new customers really heats up. At these junctures, you can be poised with your unlocked phone to switch to the provider with the best limited time offer.

The cost savings can be substantial. For instance, I am currently on a $29 monthly plan with Fido that offers the following features:

  • 450 daytime minutes
  • Unlimited weekends and evenings after 6pm.
  • Canada-wide long distance included with every minute at no additional cost.
  • Unlimited text, picture, and video messaging.
  • Caller ID, Voicemail, 3-way calling and all the other usual features.
  • 600MB of data.

Most people are paying between $50 and $60 for a plan with similar features. This plan was only available for a very limited time in Atlantic Canada only and if I had been locked into a contract with a locked phone I never would have been able to jump on it when I saw it!

Resale Value

If you pick any model of smart phone and start looking around on Kijiji or Ebay for that particular model of phone you will quickly see that any phone that is labeled as unlocked commands a significantly higher price than those that are locked to a specific carrier.

Even if you can’t sell the phone for more money, your pool of potential buyers increases dramatically and you can even sell your phone into the USA giving you a much higher chance of unloading your old phone for a decent price in no time flat.

So How Do You Unlock Your Phone?

By now I bet you’re just itching to unlock your phone after reading all of those incredible benefits, eh? Well, you’ll have to hold your horses because I’m going to save that for another soon to be posted article sometime in the next week or two. Stay tuned for that one and I’ll guide you through the process the best I can.

Disclosure: Some links in this article may be affiliate links. We're letting you know because it's the right thing to do. Here’s a more detailed disclosure on how HTS makes money.

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Daniel @ Urban Departures's picture
Stephen, I agree, the flexibility in being able to jump on a better deal is the greatest benefit in getting an unlocked phone. Ironically, I ended up bringing my unlocked iPhone to Fido and settled on a $17 2-year contract similar to yours but without data. A smartphone without data is probably a deal breaker for most, but that's how I save money!
September 27, 2013 @ 1:24 am
Stephen Weyman
Stephen Weyman's picture
That sounds like a really great deal Daniel that you only pay $17 if you have all the stuff I mentioned except data. I'd strongly be considering going data-free as well if I could get that deal. Are you getting a discount for bringing your own unlocked phone or is $17 just the price anyone could get at the time you activated that plan?
September 27, 2013 @ 10:05 am
Daniel @ Urban Departures's picture
To be fair, my plan isn't exactly the same as yours; I only get 250 minutes and no long distance, but I do get unlimited incoming calls. I started out with a regular $25 plan probably about 4 years ago with an old unlocked Samsung flip phone. I asked if I could get any additional discounts for not needing a subsidized phone and was given a few monthly credits. That, along with a few calls to retentions and the willingness to go on contract for two years resulted in my killer contract plan. Funny you mention your consideration going data free. If I could score 600mb data for another $10/month, I would be awfully tempted.
September 27, 2013 @ 11:26 am
Elaine's picture
I am having problems trying to get my data plan unlocked. My phone is a Nokia and I was given it in Australia. The phone part works well in Canada but any time I have tried to connect to a data plan, the phone tries to connect to the Australian network. I took it to my phone provider(Rogers) and they couldn't get it to unlock. They said it was because the phone is older. Are they just trying to get me to buy a new phone? I would really like this one to work just when I am traveling in Canada. I don't want to update my phone.
February 06, 2014 @ 11:03 pm
Stephen Weyman
Stephen Weyman's picture
Well it's hard to say what could be going wrong Elaine, but once the phone is unlocked and works on other providers networks than it should be fully unlocked. You do have to have your data settings configured properly for it to work with data, so maybe that is what the people at Rogers are having trouble configuring with your phone. I'm not sure. It's also possible that the phone only supports frequencies that allow it to access voice functionality but doesn't have the frequencies necessary to access Rogers' data network. That's unlikely, but not impossible. What model of Nokia phone do you have?
February 08, 2014 @ 11:36 pm
Jay's picture
Hi, did you post the how to unlock your phone article? Because I am not going to let Bell rip me off
February 18, 2014 @ 3:24 pm
Stephen Weyman
Stephen Weyman's picture
Sorry Jay I haven't found the time to do it yet. I planned to work on it shortly after this article but a lot of other priorities came up and it slipped through the cracks. It's still on the back burner though.
February 18, 2014 @ 10:57 pm
trixie's picture
ok, now it is may 04, 2014. still searching to see the article on how to unlock my phone. i need a cell for emergencies and because i am looking for work. i can't afford to pay someone to unlock it for me but i can get a good deal with a different carrier and continue using my 4 year old phone, really i just need it to make actual calls, something most people don't know about anymore with all the texting and such. please, do this soon because each day without a phone makes it harder to find work because i have no call back number at this time.
May 04, 2014 @ 1:15 pm
Stephen Weyman
Stephen Weyman's picture
I may not be able to get to writing the article soon. Just had a baby and other priorities have come up. However, the easiest and cheapest way is to usually search for your phone's modal number + either the words "unlock code" or just "unlock" on Ebay. Sort the list by price, look at the seller's feedback, and then follow their instructions. Not all phones can be unlocked in the same way, but as long as your phone isn't incredibly difficult to unlock, there should be something relatively cheap on Ebay.
May 04, 2014 @ 3:23 pm
debbie's picture

Hi Stephen,
I have been checking your site for the info to unlock my Nokia x2 cell-phone, without success. It is locked to Fido, which has ceased to offer an affordable option for me.
Having been unemployed / underemployed for the past 15 years, has placed me in financial instability. Any assistance is greatly appreciated.
Thank you,

January 24, 2015 @ 5:27 pm
Stephen Weyman
Stephen Weyman's picture

Hi debbie,

Sorry I haven't put together the unlock guide yet as it is more complicated than I originally thought. For your phone, I found a couple of sellers on Ebay charging about $20 to do an unlock. After a bit of searching I found another option here:


Make sure you actually have the X2 and not the X2-01 or X2-02 before attempting the unlock. That may change the unlock code. If you try the wrong unlock code 3 times, then you phone will be hard locked and can't be unlocked easily (although it still can be with a USB cable somehow).

January 28, 2015 @ 10:05 am
Jeff's picture

Hi Debbie, Unlocking most phones is pretty simple and can usually be done online in a few minutes by entering a unlock code into the phone.

There are several websites online that will provide you with your phone's unlock code. I have always used http://unlock4mobile.com and have been very satisfied.

On one occasion, they could not find the code for my phone and then I had to contact my service provider to get it unlocked. But all the other phones I unlocked over the past few years, they sent me the unlock code within a few hours and i unlocked the phones using this code myself. Using the website Unlock4mobile.com will be much cheaper then going to see your service provider to unlock it.

June 01, 2015 @ 11:16 am
Gary's picture

Hmmm, I don't get it. You promise to provide information on how to unlock cellphones but have only come up with excuses every since as to why you haven't written the article yet. And now you say you don't really know how?
What a clown!

October 11, 2015 @ 6:07 am
Stephen Weyman
Stephen Weyman's picture

Yup, sometimes good intentions fall by the wayside when life gets busy and other priorities pop up. Dropped the ball on this one, I admit it. Don't think that makes me a clown and I think your comment is uncalled for. I've unlocked almost all my phones, so clearly I know how. I just don't know how it works for every phone. I probably will write the guide eventually, but I'm not in a rush as I've moved on to other things.

October 12, 2015 @ 1:20 pm
Roman's picture

I purchased a pre-paid phone (Samsung Galaxy Discovery) 2-3 years ago at BestBuy and it was with Bell and then I was outside of Canada for some time. Am I stuck with Bell if I want to go with pre-paid again? How to find out if it is actually locked or unlocked? Thank you. Roman

October 17, 2015 @ 11:22 pm
Stephen Weyman
Stephen Weyman's picture

Almost all cell phones sold by a cell phone provider are locked when you buy them so yours is most certainly locked. If you buy one directly from the manufacturer or Google/Apple, then sometimes they won't be locked.

I would suggest going to Ebay and searching for an unlock service by inputting your model number + "unlock" into the search box. If you are uncomfortable doing that, you could look for a place at the mall or ask your carrier themselves if they will unlock it for you. A lot more carriers are willing to unlock for you if you are no longer under contract for a fee.

October 19, 2015 @ 2:25 pm
Jenna's picture

Hello, I have a Samsung Galaxy s5 and its locked to Rogers, I'm looking to unlock it online but am weary of the websites I'm finding. Can you give me any information on a safe and trusted website?

May 31, 2016 @ 11:47 pm
Stephen Weyman
Stephen Weyman's picture

I usually go with Ebay myself Jenna and just look at the feedback that the seller has to make sure they are reliable

June 05, 2016 @ 2:02 pm
Sharon Thurston
Sharon Thurston's picture

Rogers locked older Rogers Apple iPhone is there a code to unlock

January 09, 2017 @ 9:26 pm

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