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Amy Unlocked
This is my ATT Razr V3 back in the old US of A with my Orange/France SIM card still in it.

OrangePortable.jpg

In other words, it's been unlocked. Not only that, I got ATT (Cingular when I joined 'em) to do the unlocking...free!

Since around 2002, I've had a cell phone in France and a separate cell phone in the USA. In the USA, thanks to the poor-service-upon-hellishly-poor-service I got from ATT/Cingular, I just wrangled six months free, plus this new Bluetooth GSM phone (works in Europe!) to replace my obsolete Sony Ericsson t68i, a phone that never lived up to Cingular's promises that I could use it to connect my iBook to the Internet.

In France, my groovy non-subscription plan allows me, whenever I'm there, to go to a tabac (a tobacconist) or a phone store, pay 5 or 10 euros, get a code to punch into my phone, and get phone service for about 55 cents/minute when I dial out, and for free when people call me. Even when Gregg calls me from the USA.

And now, because I'm kind of a pushy broad, and I know the magic words (explaining, with the most pretentious French accent I could muster, that I have an account with "Frahhhnce Télécom"), I got ATT to fork over an "unlock code," which allowed me to use my groovy new Razr on the GSM network in France, simply by swapping in my Orange France SIM card.

I knew to do this after reading about a law, passed in 2006, that allows allows cell phone users to break the software "lock" carriers put on their cell, as Phuong Cat Le writes for the Seattle PI:

The ruling doesn't prevent cellular companies from locking a phone, but if a consumer unlocks it he wouldn't be in violation of copyright infringement rules, said Jennifer Granick, executive director of Stanford Law School's Center for Internet and Society.

"It's great for consumers," said Granick, who argued in support of the exemption.

In its ruling, announced as part of regular revisions to technology-related copyright law, the Copyright Office found that the software locks restrict the owner's use of a cell phone to "support a business model rather than protect access to a copyrighted work itself." The new exemption to the copyright law expires in three years.

Unlocking a phone requires entering codes or a special set of numbers, which a cellular company may or may not share with the user. Verizon Wireless doesn't lock its cell phones. T-Mobile will unlock a customer's phone 90 days after fulfillment of the contract. Sprint won't unlock phones because it believes customers already benefit from a Sprint-subsidized phones, said Travis Sowders, a spokesman for Sprint Nextel. Cingular will do it upon request but only when a contract expires or under specific conditions, said Mike Broom, a Cingular spokesman.

...Unlocking phones typically benefits people who are on the globally dominant technology GSM, or Global System for Mobile. Like Barrett, users of GSM phones can take their phones overseas, swap out the SIM card to a local carrier and pay cheaper rates for those calls.

"If you can persuade the wireless carrier to give you the code, it's simple and you key it in," he said.

Otherwise, there are numerous unlocking services that charge between $5 to $35. Check your policy, though because doing so may invalidate your warranty.

...the scumwads.

If you can't get success by getting on the phone with your carrier and sounding like a pretentious, Europe-jetting jerk, here are a few of the unlocking services.

P.S. If you're going to try to get your phone company to pony up, call well in advance of any trip. Cingular told me it could take, if memory serves me, about a week to get the code. I actually got it via e-mail in a few days. If you don't have a French phone or a phone of whatever European country you're going to, find out if they have a carrier like Orange, with cheap, no-subscrip plans.

You'll probably have to give a local address. Make one up, give a friend's, or use the address and phone of your hotel. You're not getting a subscription, just the ability to have temporary, pay-as-you-go service.

Even if you just use it once, you can mail the SIM card to a friend, have them pay 5 eu for a mobicarte, make one phone call and keep it alive. It just needs to be reused every six months, I believe.

I think it's 30 eu to open a new account with Orange -- or for when I screw up and lose my number and need a new one. With the free incoming calls, and the high price of using many US phones in Europe, that may still be a major bargain.

Woohoo!

Posted by aalkon at September 18, 2007 10:10 AM

Comments

It's been a poorly-kept secret for years that Cingular (AT&T) will give you the unlock code for your phone if you want to use it in Europe with the local SIM cards.

The only reason they lock the phones in the first place is because they subsidize them. That's why you often see phones advertised as "free with a 2-year contract". That's still a $300 piece of equipment (the Razr is more like $600). What happens without the lock is that people would get the phone, cancel the contract, pay the termination fee, and use the phone on another network. The termination fee isn't enough to cover the subsidy in most cases.

So, because there are some dishonest pricks, we all get inconvenienced.

Posted by: brian at September 18, 2007 5:21 AM

According to ATT, they do it at their discretion. I believe that if you tell them you use a European provider, and name it, you'll get the unlock code.

Note: You need the IMEI code, I think it's called, to get the unlock code. I got it off my box. Check the Internet on how to find it otherwise.

Personally, I have a special plan no longer available -- $39.99/month for 500 rollover minutes, so I'm not going anywhere.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at September 18, 2007 5:47 AM

Sony Ericsson t68i

Mine has been working fine outside North America for years???? I just called them in 2003 to unlock it and they did. I really like the t68i, it's small and no flipping required.

Posted by: The Mad Hungarian at September 18, 2007 2:25 PM

There's a great article about unlocking at http://www.news.com/Tackling+the+cell+phone+unlock+game/2100-1039_3-6208915.html?tag=cd.lede


And in Paris if you visit the area around Barbes, there's many phone stores that will unlock a phone for around 7-10 Euros.

Posted by: Don at September 20, 2007 3:50 AM

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