Home - , , , , , - TracFone Backtracks On Phone Unlocking

TracFone Backtracks On Phone Unlocking

Unlike the major US network operators, TracFone, which includes the Straight Talk, NET10 and Telcel America, never signed the CTIA's voluntary unlocking policy which says that carriers needed to have a working unlocking policy in place by Feb 11, 2015.

Nonetheless, last July TracFone published an unlocking policy that was consistent with the CTIA agreement. TracFone said would unlock its phones provided:

  • The TracFone device was first introduced for sale on or after January 1, 2014.
  • The TracFone device has been in service for at least 12 months with paid, verifiable airtime.
  • The TracFone device has not been reported lost or stolen.
  • The TracFone device is deemed by TracFone to be capable of being unlocked.
Based on that policy some TracFones launched since 1/1/14 should have now reached their 12 month anniversary and be unlockable. Unfortunately, TracFone has changed their unlocking policy again. It now reads:
"TracFone is working with manufacturers of mobile wireless devices to pursue secure solutions which would allow for unlocking of devices without jeopardizing the security of those devices. TracFone will use commercially reasonable efforts to ensure that mobile wireless devices are capable of being unlocked domestically without compromising TracFone's ability to protect against unlawful distribution and use of such devices and without impeding TracFone's ability to protect its intellectual property. It will continue to keep the FCC apprised of these efforts on a quarterly basis. Once it achieves this capability with any given device, TracFone will permit its prepaid customers, upon request, to unlock such devices one year after initial activation, consistent with reasonable time, payment, or usage requirements. Currently, TracFone offers a Bring Your Own Phone program which enables consumers to utilize their own wireless devices, including unlocked devices, with TracFone's prepaid service. In other words, no unlocks for now, but at some unspecified time in the future, TracFone will unlock phones for customers after one year of service."
In other words, "someday you might be able unlock your TracFone, but right now you can't. You can see TracFone's new unlocking policy here. The old policy can be viewed on the Internet Archive here.

TracFone's reasons for delaying unlocking seem bogus. I believe that by "unlawful distribution" TracFone means buying a phone at a subsidized price, unlocking it and then reselling it at a profit. Except that it's not illegal to buy, sell or unlock phones. I can understand that TracFone wants to recover their phone subsidy and make a profit on their phone and service sales. However the 12 months active service requirement should take care of that.

If you are wondering if what TracFone is doing is legal, it is. There's no law or FCC rule that requires carriers to unlock their phones. The Unlocking Consumer Choice and Wireless Competition Act, which went into effect 8/1/14 makes it legal for users and 3rd party services to unlock phones but it doesn't require operators to do so.

However, the voluntary unlocking agreement that the other carriers signed was created by the carriers and the CTIA only after the FCC threatened to require mobile operators to unlock phones. Hopefully the FCC will put some pressure on TracFone to come up with an unlocking policy and do it soon. I also wonder if TracFone breaking its promise to unlock phones beginning Jan 1, 2015 constitutes false advertising?

Related: Updated: Get Your Prepaid Phone Unlocked For Free - US Operator's Prepaid Unlocking Policies
FTC Orders Straight Talk, NET10, Simple Mobile and Telcel America to Refund $40 Million to Users Whose Data Was Throttled or Cut Off
Virgin Mobile's Disapointing New Phone Unlocking Policy

35 comments:

Comment Page :
  1. It sounds like $40 million wasn't enough of a fine for TracFone to learn a lesson.

    ReplyDelete
  2. "Currently, TracFone offers a Bring Your Own Phone program which enables consumers to utilize their own wireless devices, including unlocked devices, with TracFone's prepaid service."

    TracFone doesn't allow "unlocked devices" on its BYOP program. Only Verizon phones are allowed on TracFone's BYOP program.

    What are they talking about?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. StraightTalk and NET10 which are part of TracFone have GSM BYOP.

      Delete
    2. True, but the statement refers to "TracFone's prepaid service." specifically, not to all TracFone brands.

      Delete
    3. I have confirmed with Net10 that Verizon 4G Phones are also allowed on BYOP. I tested the sign up page all the way through but did not make a purchase.. yet. So CDMA seems to be acceptable on all TracFone brands now.

      Delete
  3. Is anyone really surprised ? Don't do business with them

    ReplyDelete
  4. Everything about the Mo'vile companies screams "stay away".

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Then, why does TracFone Wireless, Inc. have around 26 million subscribers?

      Delete
    2. @ Anonymous February 13, 2015 at 11:29 AM - I'm not surprised. One of the conditions they require (published last July) for them to unlock their phones reads "The TracFone device is deemed by TracFone to be capable of being unlocked." That pretty much sums it up. This last clause reserves them the right to deem none of their phones unlockable.

      Anonymous February 13, 2015 at 11:38 AM - True, but only for the smart consumers.

      Anonymous February 13, 2015 at 12:12 PM - Because people are ill-informed and stupid, that's why they've been able to sucker so many people to come on board. The fact that their devices are no good on other carriers' network discourages their customers to jump ship lest they want be stuck with an expensive piece of paperweight.

      Delete
    3. "Then, why does TracFone Wireless, Inc. have around 26 million subscribers?"

      Walmart and Walgreen's

      Delete
  5. So, after TracFone changed their unlocking policy last year and now changed it again, basically nothing has changed.

    ReplyDelete
  6. On a related note, better avoid signing up on PagePlus. Customers are losing their cash balances and can't get them back. It looks like TracFone might be shutting down PagePlus.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Do you have links to specific reports of customers losing cash balances? I'm sure it happens if an auto refill fails for example.

      Another site published a post today with undocumented claims of problems at Page Plus. TracFone has always been terrible at support but I have a hard time believing that PagePlus is any worse than NET10 or Straight Talk.

      Delete
    2. Dennis, you've probably have seen this already but just in case you haven't...
      http://www.phonenews.com/as-page-plus-problems-mount-six-reasons-theyre-probably-being-shut-down-29952/

      Dale

      Delete
    3. Yes that's the post I was referring to above. It seems to be pure speculation and also contains several factual errors.

      What is true is that PagePlus is now part of TracFone and shares TracFone's ineffective and time wasting customer support system.

      But I don't think TracFone has any intention of shutting Page Plus down. I expect them to run it as a low budget operation with mass market distribution and a substantial online and TV advertising like the other TracFone brands.

      Delete
    4. Dennis, what factual errors does the post contain?

      Delete
    5. 1. The post implies that Page Plus had LTE before they were acquired by TracFone and that was one of the reasons TracFone acquired Page Plus.
      Actually the Page Plus acquisition was completed in January, 2014 and Page Plus got LTE 10 months later in October, 2014.

      2. It says TracFone used Page Plus contracts with Verizon that it got as part of the acquisition to launch a 3G only version of the iPhone 5.
      The 3G only iPhone 5 launched on TracFone's Straight Talk brands in January, 2013, a year before the Page Plus acquisition closed.

      3. It refers to a non-existent $150/year 1,200 minutes, 3,200 text and 3.2 GB of data TracFone plan.

      The factual errors can be forgiven but I can't buy the article's claim that TracFone intends to shut Page Plus down. TracFone is doing the same thing to Page Plus that they did to Simple Mobile when they acquired them in May, 2012. They replaced Simple's dealer and end user support with TracFone's own barely adequate off shore staff. Simple Mobile lost a lot of dealers after the acquisition but TracFone increased advertising and put Simple in BestBuy, Walmart and Sears and Simple is still very much in business.

      Delete
    6. I see your point Dennis. Why do you think TracFone bought PagePlus?

      Delete
    7. By acquiring Page Plus, TracFone:
      1) eliminated a strong competitor
      2) gained 1.5 million customers
      3) obtained a large network on independent dealers
      4) got a brand with a good reputation online and strong name recognition in eastern inter-city neighborhoods.
      5) acquired some potentially useful account management and billing software and business processes.

      As with all business deals, the acquisition occurred because the buyer was able to negotiate a price that it felt was lower than the value of the assets they were acquiring.

      Delete
  7. If Page Plus goes down it means very little choice for CDMA MVNO's that cover Verizon. I'd hate to try and depend on Net10 or Straight Talk for activating a 4G LTE smartphone that uses Verizon. It would probably get more folks to either use Tmobile or AT&T MVNO's since you can easily activate an AT&T smartphone on Cricket, Net10 or Straight Talk (thought I don't like TracFone).

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. PagePlus now has the same owner, and customer service, as TracFone, Straight Talk and Net10. And they all support BYOP and LTE on Verizon. Compared to PagePlus, TracFone offers better PayGo rates with LTE (PagePlus PayGo doesn't include LTE) and Straight Talk includes more data for the money.

      Delete
    2. Legacy: I didn't think that Net 10 and Trac Phone were the only Verizon-based MVNO! Your wording implies that this is it. Check the main page, surely there are more.

      Delete
  8. Dennis, wouldn't there be legal recourse under bait and switch laws if you meet the original four requirements set forth in 2014?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I think TracFone has covered themselves with the fourth requirement "The TracFone device is deemed by TracFone to be capable of being unlocked."

      Delete
  9. "The TracFone device is deemed by TracFone to be capable of being unlocked" = WE DON'T HAVE TO UNLOCK ANYTHING FOR YOU SUCKERS!

    Ha ha! This is why I always tell people to stay away from TracFone, Net10, StraightTalk, PagePlus, or any of the América Móvil MVNOs.

    ReplyDelete
  10. people are stupid for buying tracfone? I for one love their service and do not care if i cant unlock my phone to jump ship. The people who read the terms and conditions and still complain they dont agree with the terms and conditions are stupid ones here...

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I file the Tracfone brands under "Not worth the hassle". I rather pay $45 for 1GB of data on Verizon Prepaid. If you use Callingmart, it will cost you $42.

      Delete
    2. I file the Tracfone brand under "Good Service, Good Value, No hassle". I'm a light user and pay $20 every 3 months. I've been with them basically since they started and for a light user they are a great value with a coverage area that can't be beat at the price. I've never had any nor consider that to be a hassle.

      Delete
  11. I don't trust Tracfone either - but, I think their phones are locked differently than other phones. Most if not all of the vendors of unlock codes explicitly say that they cannot unlock Tracfones - so, it might be that the locking method that is used cannot be unlocked by code, even by Tracfone itself.

    ReplyDelete
  12. This is silly, Tracfone is just trying to make as much profit as possible, just like all providers do. Just because they aren't following a policy that other providers were scared into doesn't mean everyone should get their underooos bunched up.

    I think a higher priority question is WHY would anyone want to take a bargain basement and overpriced Trackfone branded phone to another carrier?. Throw it in the trash and start over, these are stripped down phones for use with budget service and the purpose they shine but for anything else, WHY?

    ReplyDelete
  13. So locking a phone just means you can't switch to another provider? Whew! I thought somehow for some inexplicable reason the phones were going to be locked and unusable, all photos lost! I have a Tracfone and it's perfect for what I need. If I wanted something else, I would buy something else.

    Why is it a law that a company has to let all other companies make $$ off of their product? A bit lost here...

    ReplyDelete
  14. my ST iPhone 5 is locked and i can't take it anywhere else. ridiculous!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You either have the ST iPhone 5S, or your ST iPhone 5 is unlocked and you can take it to AT&T, T-Mobile and other Verizon MVNOs if the ESN is clean (released from your ST account via MEID swap).
      You can tell if its an actual ST iPhone 5 from the unique model number shown in the About menu; it's not a Verizon model number.

      Delete
  15. this iPhone 5s is secured for activation on Straight Talk Wireless Only



    can it still be unlocked after a year of being with them?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. TracFone says they will unlock "handsets which are capable of being unlocked" after they have been used for 12 months on TracFone.

      So far I've never heard of TracFone actually unlocking a phone, they always say that it's not possible to unlock the customer's phone.

      Delete
Comment Page :