T-Mobile’s new SIM unlock app has the potential to disrupt the industry

Jane McEntegart

August 11, 2014 1:15pm

T-Mobile has spent the last year making a reputation for itself as the Uncarrier, and it continues that work this week by allowing some of its customers to unlock their phones with a mobile app.

The carrier on Friday released a new application that allows users to unlock their device for use on other networks. Users can choose to temporarily unlock their phone for one month (for travel purposes) or ask that it be permanently unlocked.

Right now, the app is only compatible with the Samsung Galaxy Avant and T-Mobile still has to approve the unlocking on the carrier side, which means this is more of a fancy request process than anything. However, it does show just how ready T-Mobile is comply with the new phone unlocking bill the US signed into law earlier this month. Though the bill only lasts until 2015, it’s a step in the right direction for the United States, where unlocking your phone hasn’t even been legal.

Things are a bit more straight forward here in Canada. Unlocking your phone is legal, but carriers don’t necessarily want you to do it and it’s definitely not as easy as downloading an app and hitting a button. Most will make you wait 90 days before unlocking your phone and will charge you fifty bucks for the service. It’s unlikely this move by T-Mobile will change that process anytime soon but it will make phone unlocking seem like no big deal and hopefully push us a bit closer to devices that are unlocked from the start.

  • umhhmm

    I can’t help but think that if I own my phone and have paid a lot of my hard earned money on it
    It should be unlocked from the beginning ! It just does not make sense that I own something but can’t use it the way I want to ?

    • Jim__R

      Totally agree. There is no legitimate justification for locking phones. The only (illegitimate) reasons are to prevent someone from popping in a local SIM while travelling, and to increase the hardship of switching carriers.

      If I had my way, it would be illegal to sell a locked phone in Canada.

    • Raj Singh

      If you had your way, how much would you sell these unlocked phones for?

    • ChrisPollard77

      $349 on the Google Play store. Oh, wait … that’s exactly where the last two phones in our house came from, and exactly what we paid. Nexus FTW!!

    • Raj Singh

      You can’t go wrong with a Nexus. That is probably one of the best deals in the mobile industry. Other OEMs are probably not so keen about selling their phones at that price. Most people buy Apple or Samsung phones. Both of them are ruthless when it comes to profit margins.

    • Stephen_81

      Other companies aren’t keen on selling devices at the same price as Google because they need to manage supply chains, How much does the Nexus cost when you try and buy it at your carrier store? Not the $349 online pricetag. Carriers don’t get to make money off of selling the device owners personal details, Google does.
      Additionally Google rotates through device manufacturers to produce the Nexus so that no single manufacturer feels the complete pinch of ultra low margin nor does it damage their carrier and distribution channel relationships.

      The Direct from manufacturer model isn’t really a model to base an industry on it’s a cute side thing, but It would implode the industry if it became the norm.

    • It’s Me

      The nexus business model also relies on a non-enforced assumption of almost all post purchase revenue flowing to google. Most other OEMs cannot make that assumption especially if they rely on another company’s OS. The others have to have an expectation of making money from selling the phone (aside from those that vertically control the whole stack).

    • Jim__R

      They could be sold for the same prices as they are now.

      Having said that, if I had my way, plan and phone would be completely disentangled. If you don’t want to pay the full price for the phone up front, the carrier could finance the phone with an additional monthly charge that disappears once the phone is fully paid off.

    • Scotiaman1

      Eastlink does this now

    • Len Waugh

      Now, I’m not Emperor Jim_R, but my guess is that the carriers could sell the phones for any price they want.. just like now. They just couldn’t lock them.

      I’m sure prices wouldn’t go up to much, your still locked in a contract. And companies are still competing for your business. Right now they do it because they can… not because they have to.

    • Raj Singh

      You don’t own the until you pay it off. It’s the property of your provider until they’ve got the return on their subsidy. It’s birdsh!t that carriers and retailers can advertise a phone for 99 dollars or 199 or even 0 dollars down when that’s totally false and meant to lure you in. It’s even worse that you think you own it when you haven’t paid it in full. If you do own it, it should be unlocked for free. I can’t believe some carriers charge up to 50 bucks to unlock. That’s larceny.

    • Anon

      But its also the fault of the customer for not understanding what is happening. With your logic you should not be able to mortgage houses or pay per month for cars. Oh, and you do own it the day you buy it on a 2 year contract, try reading the contract, this is not a new thing.

    • Raj Singh

      I suppose you’re right. You can buy a TV on a credit card without paying a cent but can still call it ownership even though VISA or MasterCard let you use their money, which you have to pay back with interest. You’re right; you own it.
      A phone carrier pre paying millions on subsidies for a phone that they can sell you is not the same as a financial institution lending you money to purchase a home and charging you interest.

    • Jim__R

      It’s pretty much the exact same. Whether you sell the phone or not, you would still be on the hook to the carrier for the balance of the subsidy. Just like when you sell a mortgaged home.

    • Raj Singh

      Tru dat.

    • It’s Me

      Again, you completely misunderstand the discount on the phone is a discount. It’s not a loan, like a mortgage.

      You’ve based your opinion on misinformation and misunderstanding.

    • Raj Singh

      I don’t think so. I understand the legalese and logic behind your argument/point. But it’s foolish for anyone to think or expect a phone valued at 650/700 dollars to be given to them for the ‘discount’ price without any strings attached. Unless you own AND pay it off, then you should be able to unlock the phone for free.

    • It’s Me

      Of course there are strings. It’s called your contract. You owe them a minimum payment each month at a very lucrative rate. That’s what you owe them the the discount.

      That has nothing to do with the lock. With or without being locked, you still have exactly the same legal obligations of your contract and are bound by the terms. A lock doesn’t make you any more or less bound to the contract. A lock doesn’t make you more or less likely to honour your contract.

      All a lock does is prevent you from also using your property with another carrier while still fulfilling your contractual obligations.

      A lock has no relationship to your contract. They are not related. A lock is simply to ensure any extra revenue, above and beyond what is required by your contract, goes to them instead of someone else. That’s illegitimate.

    • ChrisPollard77

      Precisely why I will NEVER own a carrier locked phone. Never have, never will. When I go state-side, I pop in a Roam Mobility SIM and have unlimited calling/texting and 300MB of data/day for 4 bucks. Less than 1MB of roaming data from Robbers. Yes, it costs me an extra $150 up front to buy the phone, BUT I’m currently saving $25/month times two phone lines for doing it. At $50/month in savings, how many phones does that buy outright in a two year contract? $1200 every two years gets me THREE Nexus phones every two years. Free and clear. Heck, it’s almost one complete non-Nexus flagship phone per year! That’s not including what it would cost if I actually had to roam in the US … even with one of their “travel savers.”

    • It’s Me

      100% incorrect. You own the phone, fully and completely. You were given a discount on the phone not financing.

    • Raj Singh

      You are delusional if you think you own the phone, fully and completely, unless it’s paid off or you run the length of your contract.

    • It’s Me

      Umm, do you understand Canadian property law at all? You bought it, it’s yours. Period. Are you so daft as to think you signed loan papers for financing? You didn’t. They have no claim on the phone. It wasn’t financed. There was no loan. It’s yours 100%.

      You should stop posting about things you are so obviously confused about raj.

    • Raj Singh

      I’m not confused in the slightest. I think we can both agree that it is lawfully your property. You own it and can call it your own. It’s not financed but there’s a reason they lock the subsidized phones you buy (and own) as opposed to phones you buy unlocked and outright. They don’t have to unlock these discounted phones you get (and own) unless you pay them and/or they get their ROI.
      You only see your point of view, which narrows your scope. Yes, it’s yours. It’s your property. You own it. I get it.

    • It’s Me

      Actually, if you buy it from a carrier at full price, they still lock it. Because the lock has nothing to do with the contract or the discount.

      You still don’t get it.

    • Raj Singh

      Why would anyone pay full price for a locked phone?

    • It’s Me

      They are morons? That doesn’t change the fact that if you buy a phone from a carrier, contract or not, it’s locked (except nexus) because it has nothing to do with the contract or discount.

    • Raj Singh

      Well, to that end, I can’t explain why anyone would buy a locked phone at full price from a carrier. That’s just crazy talk. The Nexus is pretty much the only phone consumers should considering buy from a carrier if they want to buy it outright at full price. Otherwise, they should get it from a retailer unlocked with no branding or bloatware (if they are willing to pay full price for the device).

    • It’s Me

      Which is, of course, completely tangential to our conversations about locks and contracts.

      Why someone would buy from a carrier doesn’t matter. The fact is that if they do, it is locked, contract or not, discount or not (except nexus). Ergo, the lock has nothing to do with contracts or discounts.

      It’s amazing how many people are confused by such a simple concept.

    • Raj Singh

      Tangential to my original comment: Carriers have every right to lock their devices when they sell them to consumers at subsidized prices.

    • It’s Me

      That comment make no sense since the lock has nothing to do with the discount. Nothing.

      That much should hopefully be clear to you now.

    • Raj Singh

      Focus on this point and try to wrap your head around it while keeping your ideology intact: A carrier spends millions buying phones that they then try to sell to consumers. They have every right to lock those phones.
      That much should hopefully be clear to you now.

    • It’s Me

      They apparently do have the right, since they do it. You, however, were trying to provide a reason, i.e. the discount is the reason for the lock, because you thought it was a financed loan. It isn’t. You were wrong. Not sure why that is so difficult a concept.

      Locks have nothing to do with discounts.

    • Stephen_81

      I buy a locked phone from the carrier because the carrier gets it on the day I need it. I’ll pay the extra money to get it unlocked when I need it, though I usually get in unlocked as soon as possible anyway.

      When I wanted a Red BlackBerry Q5, my only option was going to Virgin, signing a 24 month new customer agreement for the phone, paying them the $99(?? maybe $49) price tag then going online and paying the remainder of the phone and calling and cancelling within 15 days.

      When I wanted the Samsung Galaxy Note 2 I also had no choice but to purchase a locked version of the device and later get it unlocked.

      Carriers lock phones for archaic and silly reasons I dislike it but until they find a way to create a better vendor lockin method it is their best option to just be a pain

    • It’s Me

      Vendor lock in is the contract you signed. You are locked in by the contract. A carrier lock does nothing to strengthen that obligation.

    • Stephen_81

      I hardly think a $12.50/line fee constitutes substantial switching costs, nor does it cause a vendor dependency. Without device locking there is no dependency what so ever on the carrier as any carrier can provide the service. and the $12.50/line fee doesn’t pose a lock in barrier.

      BBM used to be the equivalent to a Vendor lockin product for BlackBerry

      @carrier email addresses used to be vendor lockin tools until Free Webmail became the standard and norm.
      Phone numbers used to be vendor lockable so you couldn’t port them from carrier to carrier easily

      The Carriers today have nothing except for locking the phone to make their service the only one you can use with that hardware, the barrier to breaking that is the financial and technical skills to unlock your device, which really is so little to nothing anymore which is why I think it is archaic.

    • It’s Me

      A termination fee which starts often at $500 is a substantial barrier to switching. That’s all the lockin they are entitled to.

      Anything above and beyond that, is way outside the bounds of the service contracts.

    • Stephen_81

      The only way you can consider the cost of the device as a Vendor lock in tool is if it is locked to the carrier. Else it is just a required purchase regardless of the vendor and doesn’t act as a lock in. You have no barrier to switch with the Device Savings Recovery Fee because it is a differed payment which actually reduces your barrier of entry into the industry and unlocked creates a lower cost of moving as your $500 DSRF is usually calculated at 500/24 so after each month it drops by approx $20.83 so after 1 month of service even with the termination fee of $12.50 you’ve come out a head.

      Thus No vendor lock in unless SIM locked.

    • It’s Me

      You can call it a differed payment plan if you like, but it’s a cancelation fee. And it’s substantial. And it is a large barrier to switching. If not for that cancelation fee, then there would be nothing stopping a customer from changing carriers every month. But there is something stopping them. And that’s the cancelation fee.

      You are bound to your contract and face a stuff penalty for terminating your contract. As with any contract, it’s the contract that binds you. Anything else is out side the bounds of the contract.

      You’re right, a lock can make it harder and more expensive to switch but they do nothing to enforce the contract, especially in light of locked off contract phones. In almost any other industry creating artificial barriers to trade like that, with the express and sole intent of preventing consumers from doing business with others is illegal. Restraint of trade should never simply be excused.

    • It’s Me

      You can call it a differed payment plan if you like, but it’s a cancelation fee. And it’s substantial. And it is a large barrier to switching. If not for that cancelation fee, then there would be nothing stopping a customer from changing carriers every month. But there is something stopping them. And that’s the cancelation fee.

      You are bound to your contract and face a stuff penalty for terminating your contract. As with any contract, it’s the contract that binds you. Anything else is out side the bounds of the contract.

      You’re right, a lock can make it harder and more expensive to switch but they do nothing to enforce the contract, especially in light of locked off contract phones. In almost any other industry creating artificial barriers to trade like that, with the express and sole intent of preventing consumers from doing business with others is illegal. Restraint of trade should never simply be excused.

    • Jim__R

      What’s the reason that they lock the subsidized phones you buy?

      I can only see 2, both of them being anti-consumer and having no relationship whatsoever to the fact that there’s a subsidy attached:

      1) prevent you from popping in a local SIM while travelling

      2) increase the hardship of switching carriers

    • Stephen_81

      I agree with you and disagree with you at the same time.

      You do own the phone fully and completely. it is not a rental or lease agreement. BUT you are on a financing plan. It is a zero interest financing plan but it is a financing plan none the less. If you terminate your agreement with the carrier before the predetermined time your only expense is the remaining retail value on your phone. This alone shows you it is a financing agreement beyond the fact they show you incremental payment structures

    • It’s Me

      The termination fee is just a contract termination fee. Although it is more recently calculated on the discount, it is still just a termination fee. Two years ago (or so) it was calculated differently and was more of a fixed fee, but legally it is still a contract termination fee.

      It is absolutely, 100% not a financing plan. That carries with it a large amount of regulatory and legal obligation and requirements for the financier. The carriers have been very, very careful not have any legal connotation of financing, although they certainly imply it strongly enough to convince people.

      It is not financing at all.

    • Stephen_81

      I suppose you are correct on that point. They are created to look exactly like a financing agreement, while ensuring to not charge anything for it so they aren’t under the regulatory pressures. Though they are also careful to no longer call them contracts, you are on a term agreement because since the Nerfing rules by the CRTC the agreements we enter aren’t really contracts.

    • It’s Me

      How are they now still contracts? We still sign service agreements, just like before. We still get discounts in exchange for those agreements, just like before. We have to pay a termination fee to get out early, just like before.

      The only real differences are that they are restricted to a shorter max term and how the termination fee is determined is regulated instead of allowing a free for all on termination fees (i.e. still having a $500 termination fee after 2 years into a 3 year contract was nuts).

    • Stephen_81

      In the past There was a binding agreement for the services provided. Now there is a non binding agreement to have a differed payment plan on your mobile phone.
      Consumers give up nothing in the term agreement.

    • It’s Me

      In the last there was a binding service agreement and an early termination fee to leave the agreement early. Today there is a binding service agreement and an early termination fee to leave the agreement early.

      All that has changed, in that regard, is how the termination fee is determined. In fact, rogers implemented exactly the same system for their termination fees (tab) a year before the new regulations. The contracts are still present, still binding and still have an allowance for a termination fee.

  • hunkyleepickle

    I won’t ever buy a locked phone again. I love having the ability to just pop in my roam Sim wherever I travel.

    • Jakob

      Agreed. It’s just so stress free knowing you can do whatever it is you want with your phone.

    • beyond

      kinky!

    • Jakob

      I see what you did there :)

  • Raj Singh

    That temporary unlock feature is awesome. I always purchase devices outright but for those people locked in this will be very useful when they go on vacation and/or travel.

  • AGoodM8

    A phone should never be locked in the first place. There should be more factory unlocked options. I’m not aware of many trusted manufacturers or retailers in Canada that sell factory unlocked devices, other than Apple, Sony, Google, Staples and NCIX (online). Perhaps there are a few others, but regardless the list is too short…

  • kirilmatt

    I wish we had T-Mobile here.

    • Stephen_81

      WIND is pretty close to a T-Mobile like business here in Canada. Go with WIND

    • kirilmatt

      Its not a national carrier. I dont have access to do, and neither do many Canadians. They also dont have LTE

    • Stephen_81

      T-Mobile covers probably the same population Percentage in the USA as WIND covers population percentage in Canada.

      T-Mobile spotty coverage, If the came to Canada they’d be the same as WIND, building in select population dense locations.