T-Mobile USA's Handset Unlocking Policy

Late last month, I decided to do some research into mobile phone carriers' handset unlocking policies. I did this because I keep hearing from Operation Gadget readers who are frustrated by their inability to take their phones with them when they switch carriers. In many cases, it's because their handsets have been electronically locked by the carrier that subsidized the phone's purchase.

I use a palmOne Treo 180, a GSM/GPRS phone that runs on T-Mobile USA. Since I have been a T-Mobile customer for two years, I decided to call Customer Care to ask if they would unlock my phone so that I could use a local pay-as-you-go account while I am in Switzerland later this year. The purpose of this question was to get a customer care representative to tell me what T-Mobile's handset unlocking policy is.

You probably know that most electronically-locked handsets can be unlocked by typing in a numeric code. So, if T-Mobile would provide that electronic code for my Treo, I could replace the SIM chip with a chip from any other GSM carrier that I chose, and the phone would bill to that carrier.

The customer care representative from T-Mobile told me that they will submit an unlock request to the handset manufacturer for any customer who has had an account with T-Mobile for 90 days if that account is in good standing. An unlock code is usually provided by the handset manufacturer within 24 hours.

The next day, I received the following email from T-Mobile's SIM Unlock department:

T-Mobile Sim Unlock Request
Sim Unlock Reference: 020xxxx
IMEI: 50011711059xxxx
Unlock Code: 1017xxxx

Thank you for taking the time to contact T-Mobile. Below you will see the Instructions for unlocking your Handspring device.

NOTE: If you receive an error message while performing the instructions below, stop. Please be aware that if an excessive amount of incorrect attempts are made, the phone will be permanently locked. Verify the IMEI by pressing *#06# and submit a new request.

  1. Insert the foreign SIM card and the device should display "SIM Card Not Allowed"
  2. Enter *#*#
  3. Enter the unlock code
  4. Enter #
  5. Tap the phone icon on the bottom right of the touch screen that is used to "SEND" a call
  6. If successful, the phone should display an "Unlocked" message

NOTE: If the step above do not work you can also try inserting the foreign SIM card and the device may display instructions for entering the unlock code.

Thank You,

Sim Unlock Department
T-Mobile USA, Inc.

As I said in my previous article about the AT&T Wireless Handset Unlocking Policy, I'm not saying that handset unlocking policies should be the only factor in choosing a wireless carrier. But, they are a very good indication of how customer-friendly a carrier is.

T-Mobile has good service in my area, and their billing plans are competitive, particularly for wireless data services. I am staying with T-Mobile for my own mobile phone for these reasons, and because their customer service policies may be the most friendly in the industry.