Cell Phone

Freedom-At Your Own Risk

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OK, so there’s all this talk about locked versus unlocked phones, with advice and Websites that help you unlock them. Why are they locked in the first place? Is it a security issue or something else?
-P. Jones, Atlanta

When it comes to this issue, there are as many explanations as there are phones.

The issue has reached a peak for users who feel that once they purchase a phone, it’s theirs-and they should be free to do with it as they please. Charles Golvin, a principal analyst at Forrester Research focusing on mobile communications, says the answer is simple: “The main reason carriers lock the phones is because they subsidize a significant portion of the cost of the phone and recoup that subsidy through service fees.” Keeping the phone locked, so consumers can’t use their phones with other wireless providers, is one barrier to switching, he says.

A growing industry is now devoted to providing either third-party software (which sell you the “secret codes” for each phone) or a piece of hardware (connected by a data cable) that lets you write over the phone’s operating system. Brenda Raney, VP of Corporate Communications for Verizon Wireless says once this happens, cell phone users “take responsibility if the service or the phone doesn’t work,” adding “we aren’t set up to provide technical support on other carriers’ networks.”

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