So about this unlocking business
January 11, 2010 11:20 AM   Subscribe

Can you please explain cell phone unlocking as it pertains to CDMA networks in the US? Or, more specifically, I have a Palm Centro for Sprint that I would like to use on Verizon, and I would like some advice on if this is possible and if so what do I do?

I have read the previous AskMes on this topic but they didn't quite answer my question.
posted by radioamy to Technology (9 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
sio42 is correct in that Verizon phones need to be "activated" individually on the network, based on some kind of unique address.

Now, I was just listening to a podcast where they were discussing this issue w/r/t the Google Nexus One (which is being sold unlocked). While there isn't an official route to getting this on Verizon, one of the panelists mentioned that he had had luck getting Verizon resellers to activate whatever phone he wanted on their network as long as he bought a contract. YMMV, but it's probably worth asking- resellers make their money on contracts, not phones.
posted by mkultra at 11:32 AM on January 11, 2010

sio42: "pretty much everyone but verizon uses SIM cards"

Just for clarification:

AT&T, T-Mobile = GSM = sim cards = possible unlocking for use between providers
Sprint, Verizon = CDMA = no sim cards = no unlocking

You can not use GSM phones on a CDMA network and vice-versa, so you will need a new phone.
posted by sharkfu at 11:34 AM on January 11, 2010

Response by poster: sharkfu - I'm trying to go from Sprint to Verizon wich are both CDMA.
posted by radioamy at 11:44 AM on January 11, 2010

It isn't so much as can you unlock your CDMA Sprint phone (you can, err Sprint can...there's not a huge aftermarket like there are with GSM phones for online or self serve solutions). The question is if Verizon will let your phone on its network. Verizon would prefer not to allow your phone on its network. The short answer is they won't. They'd rather sell you a new phone and get you in a contract. From what I remember reading "back in the day" even if you found a Verizon rep to take your Sprint phone's IMEI number, their Verizon computer wouldn't accept it.
posted by birdherder at 11:47 AM on January 11, 2010

Response by poster: The line is under contract with Verizon so we can't upgrade, and she hates her current handset. She still has the Centro from when we were with Sprint. I can't find them for a decent price on eBay.
posted by radioamy at 11:53 AM on January 11, 2010

Best answer: CDMA phones have a unique ID embedded into the phone (IMEI or something, it's usually below the battery) that identifies it to the carrier, while GSM phones are identified by the SIM card. Unlocking refers to the process of making the GSM phone allow a SIM card from another company (like AT&T to T-Mobile), because in the US phones are "locked" to one provider and can only read a SIM card from that provider.

Verizon and Sprint maintain a database of "allowed" IMEI codes for their networks to prevent people from activating any random phone. Since everything is handled on the network provider's side, "unlocking" has little meaning. However, Verizon and Sprint may have pulled their phones from the same IMEI bank and it's possible that Verizon's database of IMEIs overlaps with Sprint's.

For a year or so, I ran an Amp'ed mobile (now defunct) prepaid phone on the Verizon network. The phones were similar and the Verizon database had my phone as allowed - some other people were not as lucky.

You can switch your phone online through Verizon's website, but there are a lot of caveats. Since the type of phone is so intimately connected with type of service and billing, going from one class of phone to another (like dumbphone to smartphone) will not be allowed online. You have to call in to Verizon so they can make sure the network provides the right services to you, and more importantly bills you correctly. If you are going from a Verizon Centro to another Centro, this shouldn't be a problem, but any other class of phone (Blackberry, Droid, dumbphone, etc.) will prevent you from being switched online.

I haven't been with Verizon in over a year, but if you call in without trying to switch online, you can get charged a fee.

In short: try it out online, you don't have much to lose. But Verizon can easily say "hey you're not on an allowed device and we won't activate your phone".
posted by meowzilla at 12:01 PM on January 11, 2010

Response by poster: meowzila - why wouldn't I be able to go from dumbphone to smartphone? I don't actually want to have a data plan on the Centro, it would be the same regular plan.
posted by radioamy at 2:09 PM on January 11, 2010

Response by poster: Oh and not that I want to do anything illegal, but I am not adverse to some software-tweaking to try to make this work.
posted by radioamy at 2:13 PM on January 11, 2010

Verizon has separate billing/provisioning from dumbphones and smartphones. If you activate a Palm Centro with them, they want you to turn on their data plan for Palm phones. Since Verizon is in the business of selling you data plans, I think they're likely to deny your Palm phone without a data plan.
posted by meowzilla at 11:59 AM on January 12, 2010

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