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T-Mobile's New Prepaid Phone Unlocking Policy: One Year of Consequtive Use or $100 in Airtime

T-Mobile has changed the rules for  getting their phones and tablets unlocked again and the changes are mostly for the worse. To qualify for a free unlock a prepaid phone now has to have been active on T-Mobile for more than 365 consecutive days or had more than $25 in refills applied for basic phones or $100 in refills for smartphones. Users are limited to two unlocks per year.

This is the third change to T-Mobile's unlocking policy in less than a year.

Before April 12, 2013 T-Mobile had one of the most lenient unlocking policies of any US operator. T-Mobile would provide up to four unlocks per year to anyone who had been a customer for at least 60 days with either $50 in refills over the lifetime of the account or a refill of any amount in the last 30 days. The phone being unlocked only had to have been used on T-Mobile once, even if only for a day.

On April 12, 2013 T-Mobile started requiring that the user have a either $50 account balance or a refill in the last 30 days and that the phone be active on the user's account for 60 consecutive days.

On April, 24 T-Mobile changed the rules again cutting the phone usage requirement from 60 to 40 consecutive days but limiting customers to two unlocks per year instead of four.

The new policy is clearly designed to discourage users from buying T-Mobile phones for use on another network or for resale (unlocked phones are worth more). However, it makes things more difficult for normal users who want the freedom to switch operators should they move to an area with lousy T-Mobile coverage or if and when a competitor offers a better deal.

The only users I see this change benefiting are those who need to get a new phone unlocked immediately for international travel and who plan on using the phone on T-Mobile when they return and thus have a use for $110 in required airtime purchases.

I still consider the new rules overly restrictive particularly as T-Mobile doesn't subsidize it's prepaid phones by very much compared with other operators. Tightening the unlocking rules is definitely not an "un-carrier" move

These changes should also come as a wake up call for anyone who thought that the much ballyhooed "Carrier Unlocking Voluntary Commitment" that T-Mobile and the other three national carriers agreed to December will make getting phones unlocked easier. That agreement specifically allows carriers to withhold unlocks of prepaid phones for up to a year after purchase and to impose payment and usage requirements and charge a fee for unlocking.  Up to now no US operator has required more than a six month wait for a prepaid unlock. It seems like T-Mobile sees the agreement as justification for extending the wait to a full year. Let's hope the other operators don't follow suit.

Although I haven't seen any announcement, I suspect the new rules will also apply to T-Mobile owned MetroPCS as well as to Target's Brightspot and Walmart's Family Mobile, as their unlocking policies have mirrored T-Mobile's in the past.

Related:
Get Your Prepaid Phone Unlocked For Free - US Operator's Prepaid Unlocking Policies
Prepaid Operator Profile: T-Mobile

Source T-Mobile via HowardForums

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19 comments:

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  1. Makes cellunlocker.net a bargain and a no-brainer. They've shot themselves in the foot.

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    1. Unlocking services are a good cost effective option for LG, ZTE and HTC phones but unlocking most recent Nokia, Motorola and Samsung phones and iPhones is quite expensive $30-$100) with all unlocking services.

      Also, Cellunlocker seems overpriced. They charge $8 to unlock LG phones that unlockcode247.com does for $1.90.

      Delete
    2. at&t iphone unlocking seems to be dropping in price to the $35-$70 range on ebay. but you can still find the high $100+ prices.

      if you can wait, for at&t iphones, just do six months on at&t gophone and then get the unlock for free.

      unlocks for tmobile iphone seem to be in the $100+ range on ebay. it may be better to just pay the $100 for airtime to tmo and get the unlock directly from tmo.

      Delete
  2. Does anyone know the cheapest site to unlock a nokia 520 from ATT GO phone? Any advice would be much appreciated.

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  3. I can guarantee that the other carriers will follow suit. Outside of unlimited data, I really don't see the allure behind T-Mobile Prepaid anymore. I can get GoPhone for less than T-Mobile Prepaid via callingmart with superior coverage. MetroPCS is a good deal, but lacks short codes and many other things that you have to pay extra for. Don't get me wrong, I'm grateful for T-Mobile's shaking things up. But, I think it's pricing is stale.

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  4. I left T-mobile for GoPhone for my main line last year. Coverage was terrible, and at&t phones are more compatible than T-mobile's aws, much easier to find.

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  5. Does anyone know if you actually have to use the phone on Tmobile to obtain the unlock code? If you have a qualifying account or have bought $100 of refills in the past is that enough without using the phone on TMO? They used to require the phone to be unlocked be used while you made the unlock request.

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    1. The rules clearly state that the phone either needs to be used on the account of the user who is requesting the unlock for more than 365 days or the user must add $25 or $100 to their account while the phone is active on that account.

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  6. Can a qualifying T-Mobile customer obtain an unlock code for someone else?

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    1. I don't see why not as long as the other user used the phone with their SIM for 365 days or added $25 or $100 to the phone while their SIM was active in the phone.

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  7. Heavy Pressure by consumers now needs to be applied to the FCC to let them know that their voluntary agreement is completely ineffective in allowing consumers to move freely between carriers and increasing competition, especially between carrier MVNOs! If it were that the device simply needed to be year old then I think many could live with that. But to require a device that has already been in use for x amount of time and if deactivated, then required to complete another full year of service is ludicrous in the FCC/consumers effort to get these devices unlocked!

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  8. Whine whine whine. Just spend the money to buy a good unlocked phone, TMobile isn't out to blatantly put one over on users. If there weren't folks out there taking advantage of the old policy, there'd be no need to tighten up the rules...OF COURSE they want it harder to switch, and its not unfair.

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  9. You do not need to buy a new phone. Just pay a little and have your phone unlocked if you are too impatient to follow the rules or find a friend who will help.

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  10. Does anybody know if I have to activate my phone to unlock it? I don't live in the U.S. My sister bought me a phone but didn't activate it. I don't mind paying like $20 to unlock it but I would like to know if the phone has to be activated to my T-Mobile Sim card first to be unlocked

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    1. If you want T-Mobile to unlock your phone, it must be in use on a T-mobile account.

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  11. How can I request or where can I request t mobile to unlock my phone online? I think I meet the requirements and supposedly I'm supposed to go to their website. They state the requirements but never state a webpage to do the actual unlocking and the request of information

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    Replies
    1. Call T-Mobile customer service.

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  12. So. If I have a T-Mobile account with a prepaid phone already registered or line. And I buy a new prepaid phone and register my phone to this account so now I have 2 phones or lines in one account. If I continue to put $50 prepaid monthly plans yo my account phone. In 2 months I will have the $100 needed, would that count as valid for unlock? Notice that I never used my new phone, I just registered it to my account and I continued with $50 prepaid per month on my original phone

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Your new phone must be used on a T-Mobile prepaid account, and you must add $100 to that account, or use the phone on that account for one year before T-Mobile will unlock the new phone.

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