lock and key on smartphone

What Does Universal Unlocked Mean?

When thinking about getting a new phone do you ever hear the phrase universal unlocked? Where you buy it from and how much you pay will often fluctuate. It will depend on whether you’re tied to a single network, and for how long. Many carriers will offer 12 months or 2 year contracts if you choose to take a phone as part of the deal. The phone itself may well be locked to that network, but that doesn’t mean you don’t have other options.

Although spreading the cost of a new smartphone might be a good option for you, you will invariably pay an inflated price for the device/airtime package. So it’s always worth seeing if you can source an unlocked phone elsewhere and taking out a SIM or airtime only contract. But what does “unlocked” actually mean?

GSM CDMA data comparison list

Freedom To Shop Around

As we’ve mentioned, many carriers provide smartphones that are locked to their network. Being locked in means it can’t be used on any other network. Even putting a new SIM card won’t matter, as the phone will only try to register on its native network. It may then report a SIM error with a card from a different network provider. An unlocked phone will allow movement between carriers, allowing you to get the best deal possible. You will also be able to use the phone overseas without the crippling roaming charges US networks lay on you.

Here at Mr Aberthon, we believe in freedom. Therefore all our mobile devices, whether phones or hotspots, are fully unlocked. Meaning that they are ready to work on GSM networks in over 190 countries worldwide. The key here, though is “GSM”. GSM-ready phones use SIM cards, whereas the alternative network type of CDMA is SIM-free. CDMA phones are much more restricted in terms of how and where they can be used, and also how they are unlocked.


GSM Unlocking Process Simplified

With a GSM phone, you can simply ask your provider for an unlock code, which they will then supply. It will allow you to unlock the phone (once your contract is paid off or once you have met the network’s requirements). They may make a small charge to supply you with the code. Or, they can refuse to provide it to you if you were ever late with your payments. But the charge is usually a fairly nominal amount to cover admin costs.

The method of unlocking a GSM phone is easy. Assuming it isn’t setup to simply reject SIM cards from other networks, the phone will recognize the SIM card. It may automatically ask for the unlock code to allow the SIM to be used. Put the code in, and your phone will unlock immediately. (It is possible that you may need to restart the device before taking out the SIM card or battery in order for the unlock code to get saved. Otherwise it may resort to asking you for the code each time you turn on the device.) We should add that this doesn’t get you out of any contract obligations, and you will still need to pay the minimum airtime term, according to your contract. Some carriers will insist that the contract get paid out upfront and this kind of defeats the purpose of the contract :).

GSM CDMA cell towers

In many countries, all phones are already supplied unlocked, with the UK also quickly moving towards such an arrangement. Airtime providers, in effect, now act as device retailers instead of limited package suppliers.

CDMA is Usually Sim-Less

With CDMA phones, the higher end phones which have similar unlocking procedures and generally cost more. But with all lower end CDMA phones, which generally don’t have a SIM card, the process is a little different. You need to contact the airtime provider and ask that they unlock the phone remotely for you. Again, this may be a problem, and you will also still be liable for any remaining months on your current contract. But this is where the difference between CDMA and GSM becomes most apparent.

Usually GSM For The Traveler

GSM networks are used by carriers in over 190 countries, as we’ve said. CDMA networks are used in just a handful of countries including the US. The reason for this disparity is primarily because GSM is the result of an industry consortium. The EU mandated it as their standard network in 1987. This meant most countries followed suit, and GSM became the dominant network type. In the US, only Sprint, Verizon and US Cellular use CDMA. Verizon recently announced plans to switch entirely to GSM by the end of 2019.

So does that mean a CDMA phone is useless outside the US? Well, it depends on what phone you have and how old it is.

Manufacturers are now starting to build in SIM functionality to CDMA phones. In part, this is because the 4G standard calls for SIM-compatibility in order to comply. It forces carriers and device makers to re-evaluate their business models. If you have a CDMA phone without SIM compatibility, there are only a handful of countries in which it can be used. Even then, you are stuck with US roaming charges. In comparison, as of June 2017, the EU have enacted a law which states all contract terms must be applied within all EU countries. So any call, text or data allowances bought in any EU member country can be used in any other without additional charges being applied. This is only possible because of the GSM standard.

In simple terms, unlocked will always be better than locked. But there are caveats to that, such as being on a GSM network such as AT&T or T-Mobile to ensure maximum compatibility.

Universal Unlocked

And now on to what Universal unlocked means. Simply and concisely, it refers to “No Carrier Branding or Bloatware” and we’ll elaborate on that as well.

Apps page of a smartphone screenshot

When a manufacturer such as Samsung makes a model for a network it sells hundreds of thousands of them. The network has the buying power to get Samsung to add their carrier branding. They revise the version of android to be tweaked to their own network. They add extra apps that you may never use (and sometimes may even get in your way), nor let you uninstall or delete them. All that in order to make their network a solid presence in your device.

Free of Carrier Branded Apps

A Universal mobile device is one which is identical to a carrier brand model. It is missing the carrier branding and its carrier apps. It is generally made for countries that have smaller networks with less buying power. Those networks don’t have the ability to get the manufacturer to do things as their bigger network friends can.

In general, Universal phones have supporting bands that cover a larger array of frequencies. It makes them well suited for more locations worldwide. Whereas carrier branded phones tend to be more specific to the bands they need to support. Simply put, they only support in places where they are present. This is why of the two, carrier branded phones are less likely to have service up on the moon.

So The Bottom Line…

Let’s say you have only one network you use and never intend to change it or travel further then its coverage. I would suggest that you go with a device that is carrier branded (if you don’t mind the carrier branding or bloatware). But, if you are a frequent traveler and or want a genuine Samsung phone without anyone else’s two cents, I would suggest to stick to Universal Unlocked phones.

Some manufactures took this a step further being that they wanted to show their tremendous strength of being on top and not caving to others even the big networks with their extreme buying power. They created devices such as Google did with their New Pixel or with their previous Nexus models, or as some newer Samsung and Apple models did as well. They built devices that are Universal Unlocked without any Carrier Branding.

If you have any doubts, or need any more information about any of our unlocked devices, feel free to get in touch.

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