Unlocking and using a GSM phone in the U.K.
August 19, 2005 9:34 AM   Subscribe

Cell phone unlocking and international usage (using a U.S. phone in the U.K.)

I have a GSM world phone, and I'm travelling to the U.K. this weekend. I'd like to be able to buy a prepaid SIM card and an international calling card once I arrive. I know my (T-Mobile, Samsung) phone needs to be unlocked first. Are the online cell phone unlocking services reliable? Can anyone recommend a cheap, trustworthy service?

Once I get to London, how hard will it be for me to find a prepaid SIM card that I can plug into my phone? Is this something that's sold at corner markets, or will I need to find a specialty cell phone shop, or am I not going to be able to find this at all?
posted by mr_roboto to Technology (19 answers total)
 
If you've been with T-Mobile for over 90 days and have not unlocked any other phone in that time call customer service and request it promptly. If you don't manage to get it unlocked at worse you'll be able to use T-Mobile UK or TMO Euro there.
posted by riffola at 9:39 AM on August 19, 2005


You have a world band phone, right?

I just ask because many world band phones are unlocked by the provider already since they're intended for international usage.

If you don't have a world band phone, don't expect it to work in the UK. They use a different set of frequencies. You might get lucky though.
posted by shepd at 9:43 AM on August 19, 2005


Are the online cell phone unlocking services reliable?

I've never had them work. It's pretty easy to do it if you have the phone with you and specialized equipment. I've been quoted GBP 8-GBP 10 to do this in London, at dodgy third-party mobile shops in markets and less posh areas.

Once I get to London, how hard will it be for me to find a prepaid SIM card that I can plug into my phone?

Extremely, extremely easily. There are many people and businesses who will be happy to take your money and give you a new SIM.

Is this something that's sold at corner markets, or will I need to find a specialty cell phone shop, or am I not going to be able to find this at all?

At a mobile (not "cell") phone shop, but these are extremely common. In Cambridge city centre there must be about twice as many mobile shops as there are corner shops. And once you have it, you can add credit anywhere, either over the phone with your credit/debit card, or with cash at a drug store, grocery store, or mobile shop.
posted by grouse at 9:43 AM on August 19, 2005


I've never been to the UK, well except the bit where the plane stops in London for refeulling, but you'll find phone cards and *good* cheap phones at Car Phone Warehouse.
posted by riffola at 9:44 AM on August 19, 2005


shepd writes "I just ask because many world band phones are unlocked by the provider already since they're intended for international usage."

Really? I know it's intended for international usage, but I was under the impression that I'm tied to T-Mobile's international roaming service, which costs something like $1/minute.
posted by mr_roboto at 9:51 AM on August 19, 2005


Perhaps a UK Tmobile pay n go SIM will work in your phone, and you won't need to unlock. They're as good as anyone - all pay and go are more or less the same.

A Tmobile shop should let you try out a sim in your phone to see if it works.
posted by lunkfish at 10:11 AM on August 19, 2005


mr_roboto, if you got the phone brand new and it has T-Mobile branding on it, then it is definitely locked. As I said you could use T-Mobile UK or one of the European T-Mobile SIM cards in it without needing to get it unlocked but the best thing you can do is call customer service and request the unlock code urgently, it's free.
posted by riffola at 10:12 AM on August 19, 2005


I agree that Carphone Warehouse is a good recommendation for a third-party phone shop.
posted by grouse at 10:21 AM on August 19, 2005


Sorry for the hijack but this thread presumably already has

Does anyone reading this have a line on someplace (preferably in the US but if they'll do business with Amurikinz I can ship to the UK) that will do unlocking VIA CABLE on a Nokia phone?

I have a Nokia 6620 that has defied all code unlocking (as well as one mail-away cable unlocking) and unfortunately my GoogleFu has turned up only companies offering code-based unlocking - there's such a glut of people selling what NokiaFree.org gives away for free that I can't find the more esoteric service.
posted by phearlez at 10:30 AM on August 19, 2005


Re: phone unlocking - I've never done it online, but I had an AT&T phone which I had unlocked at an independant cell store in Boston. If there's one in your area which sells phones for a variety of carriers (i.e. not owned/partnered with Verizon/T-mobile etc) , you could try asking. I was then able to use that phone in the UK with a pay as you go SIM card.
posted by darsh at 10:47 AM on August 19, 2005


How long do you have on your contract? They do have to unlock it when your time's up.
posted by bonaldi at 10:48 AM on August 19, 2005


whoopsie - that should have opened with "Sorry for the hijack but this thread presumably already has readers who have some experience/knowledge in this area...'
posted by phearlez at 10:51 AM on August 19, 2005


Well, I called T-Mobile customer service and they were totally cool about unlocking the phone. They said I'd get an email within 24 hours, which should be plenty of time...
posted by mr_roboto at 11:00 AM on August 19, 2005


mr_roboto - DO NOT forgot to enable international roaming on your phone if you hope to use your existing T-Mobile service there at all. last time i was out of the country, i had called to enable international dialing but didn't realize this wasn't the same as international roaming which is easy to enable. even if you don't plan to use your existing account there, it's not a bad idea to enable the service in case something does happen, and you're stuck without service. it's free to have enabled, and then about $1/min in most EU countries. granted, it can add up, but it's not a bad thought.
posted by quadrinary at 2:56 PM on August 19, 2005


Well worth remembering "Cells" are known as "mobiles" in the UK. In Whitechapel, London they have been offering unlocking of common mobiles for 99p for the last year
posted by bluefin at 4:25 PM on August 19, 2005


I used software from these guys to unlock three Motorola phones. It worked exactly as advertised. I bought a SIM card in Mexico for about $25 and it worked fine.
posted by Wet Spot at 6:53 PM on August 19, 2005


A good way to test if your T-Mobile is really unlocked is to try putting in a friend's card with another GSM network. If the phone accepts it, there should be no problem putting in a UK Simcard.

What you probably want to do is get a UK SIM card that will give you a UK number. The big advantage to this is that you will be able to _receive_ calls for free, and people in the UK can call you without paying international rates. Making calls is still pretty expensive compared to Pay As You Go (PAYG), but better than $1/minute.

As a note to others, if a phone is locked to T-Mobile in the US, it WILL NOT work with T-Mobile in the UK. The reason is that they have different Network IDs and that's what the locking is based on.

WRT getting a SIM card, they cost between GBP15 and free, it depends on where you go and how lucky you are. I'd recommend that you avoid T-Mobile and Virgin Mobile (same network as T-Mobile) as their coverage is quite poor in some parts of London. O2, Orange and Vodafone are about equal in London.

I have a bunch of O2 PAYG simcards that I give out to visitors, and I'll post you one if you like. Email me, address is in my profile.

phearlez: unlocking Nokia phones should be pretty easy. If you've tried too many times then you will need a cable, otherwise I've always found this site to work well. For the cable service, there are a number of UK-based services, but would you really want to post your phone? Surely there's someone nearby who does it?
posted by quiet at 6:56 PM on August 19, 2005


once you have your phone unlocked, i agree with the other posters that the carphone warehouse is a good place to go. i recommend buying a "fresh" pay as you go sim card there--it's the carphone warehouse's own mobile service that piggybacks on the t-mobile UK network. rates are 15p per minute for all calls and 5p texts. i used it in the UK for the past year without complaints.

other providers (vodafone, O2, orange, t-mobile) will offer pay as you go rates that are sometimes cheaper than 15p/minute, but there are usually restrictions--their cheap rates are only to their network, or they charge 25p for the first three minutes per call, etc.

you can buy the sim by itself; i think it costs about £10, and you get £5 or £10 credit with it.
posted by reflexed at 10:29 AM on August 20, 2005


Carriers 'international' phones just operate on international frequencies. They are not unlocked to allow other carriers SIM cards.

Cingular (not AT&T) and T-Mobile will both unlock phones in certain situations.

I've never gotten one of the on-line sites to work properly and investing in the equipment yourself is a little pricey.

I recommend looking for a local dealer in your area that provides the service for a modest fee.
posted by SupaDave at 10:50 AM on August 24, 2005


« Older Where's the next Edison?   |   Human avoidant prey animals and their origins. Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.