Getting an unlocked phone is something more and more consumers are looking into. The freedom to do whatever you want with your phone and not be tied down to a network means that more people are exploring the ways their phones can be used.

However, it often isn’t as easy as you might think. Phone manufacturers and networks are actively standing in the way of you unlocking your mobile, sometimes causing the process to be drawn out and expensive. 

Benefits of an unlocked phone

Unlocking your phone allows you to experience a number of benefits that you won’t get if you’re using a phone tied down to a network. The main reason why an unlocked phone is beneficial is that you’ll be able to use it with any SIM or network you like, provided you have the SIM card.

This means that you can move between any network and tariff you want if you choose a SIM-Only deal. This also comes with an improved cost, as you won’t be paying for the phone as well as the contract, making it far cheaper overall. Unlocking means no longer being tied down to a specific provider.

The handset itself is also more open when unlocking, depending on what device you have. If you own an Android phone, you’ll be able to do more with it once it unlocks, including installing specific types of apps. There are a number of different ways to get your phone unlocked, so it’s important you do your research based on what phone you have and what network you are on.

Another big benefit is if you're looking to sell the phone. An unlocked phone is a lot more valuable as you can offer it to anyone, regardless of what provider they are with. If it is locked to one provider, you'll have limited interest from only people who are on the same provider, which means you may have to charge a fair bit less for it.

Buy it unlocked

If having an unlocked phone is a priority for you, you should consider cutting out the middleman and simply buying an unlocked phone from the beginning. There are a number of ways you can do this. 

Certain mobile providers offer unlocked phones combined with SIM-only deals, meaning you aren’t tied down to a contract. GiffGaff is the biggest example of this, with the company only offering unlocked phones that you buy upfront and combine them with a SIM-only deal that rolls over every month. 

Another way of doing this is buying the phone directly from the manufacturer. This way, you’ll be free to use it as you wish and buy a SIM-only plan or pay-as-you-go deal from your chosen network. Manufacturers such as Sony, Apple and Samsung all allow you to buy their phones straight from their websites or stores.

The only downside here is the initial upfront cost, which can be very expensive. Modern smartphones are sold for hundreds of pounds if not thousands (only really the one thousand, possibly two coming soon though), but if you can get past this, you’ll save money in the long run.

With a contract from a network, you’re paying the same amount for a phone (if not more), but it’s spread over 24 months rather than paying upfront. 

Use an unlocking service

If you’re still in a contract and can’t consider splashing out on a brand-new unlocked phone just yet, you may want to consider using a third-party unlocking service. What you use and how much it will cost depends very much on the make and age of your phone.

If you have a newer smartphone, you’ll probably need to pay up in order to get it unlocked. This is because of the code system that is used to unlock a phone. Phones need specific codes in order to be unlocked, with older phones having much more common codes than newer models.

Mobile phone unlock services will charge varying amounts, depending on what phone you have. When you purchase a code from a third-party organisation, it’s important to be careful and know for sure what you’re buying.

GiffGaff’s ‘Unlockapedia’ is a useful tool for this, as you can enter your make and model of phone in order to find the best option for you. Often, you’ll be able to buy a code and use it there and then, but this can differ depending on the service. 

Use your provider

Regardless of what you might have heard in the past, it’s not illegal to unlock your phone. Mobile providers, however, are unlikely to let you know about the services you’re entitled to as their aim is to keep you tethered to their network for as long as possible. It’s entirely possible to have your phone unlocked by your current provider, with many of the big names offering unlocking services. 

Providers such as EE, Vodafone and O2 all allow you to unlock your phone. There are varying ways of doing this, but the most common is to ask your network for a code, which they are obliged to hand out to you. Some networks, such as EE, do charge you a small fee in the process, but this is insignificant compared to what you can potentially save. This works in a similar way to obtaining a PAC code in order to port your number over to a new provider and is most commonly done at the end of a contract. 

Risks of unlocking your phone

There are some risks that do come along with unlocking your phone. As we say, while it isn't illegal, most phone manufacturers prefer that you don't unlock your phone. To deter you from doing so, they may have a clause in the small print of your contract that if you do unlock your phone without their permission, your warranty will be voided. 

You can also 'brick' your phone by doing it yourself. If you are not adept at unlocking your phone, you run the chance of breaking it, hence the term 'bricking'. It simply means that you have messed up somewhere and now your phone is essentially useless, confined to being a brick in your pocket.

Things to remember

  • Note your phone’s make and model 
  • If your phone is older, try a free code
  • Shop around for a code
  • Don’t be afraid to ask your current network 
  • Consider buying an unlocked phone 
  • Unlocking your phone isn’t illegal