Locked vs. Unlocked iPhone

The US wireless market is more competitive than ever, which is great news for consumers who have lots of choices when it comes choosing a service provider.

But one barrier still exists when trying to switch carriers: the locked smartphone.

The end of wireless contracts marked a watershed trend for consumers because it finally opened the door for them to more easily shop around for alternative wireless carriers. But the software locks that carriers put on phones restricting its use on other networks still prevent many consumers from having total freedom when it comes to choosing a provider.

What's the difference between a locked and unlocked phone?

The difference is that a locked phone has a software code on it that prevents you from using it on another network. An unlocked phone either doesn't have the software lock on it or someone was able to get a code that unlocks the software. Once a device is unlocked, you can pop out the SIM card and put in a different SIM and get service.

What's the benefit of having an unlocked phone?

The biggest benefit of having an unlocked phone is that if you want to switch wireless operators, you can easily do that. All you have to do is pop in a new SIM and sign up for service. There's no need to buy a new phone. This is great because it lets you shop around for the cheapest service instead of being stuck with a particular carrier because you don't want to buy a new phone.

This flexibility can also come in handy for people traveling overseas. It's usually less expensive to use a local wireless service while traveling abroad. And again, you simply pop out the SIM card in your phone and replace it with one from a local carrier. And voila! You will have a new local number and it will be cheaper to make calls in country and access the internet than if you used a US carrier's service that would require roaming on the foreign network.