What Grinds My Gears: Phones Should Be Unlocked When Bought Off-Contract and At Contract’s End
Here in Canada, if a customer wanted to remove the SIM lock from the phone in order to use it with another carrier, we would need to buy an unlock code from third party vendors. The cost can range from a few dollars to tens of dollars but in the end it’s an extra fee that should never have been incurred. The real question is; why should consumers pay to unlock their own devices that have either been fully paid for or when our contract terms are completed?
I say this because when buying phones off-contract, we, the customer, pay full-price for the device and should be able to use the phone as we wish. By paying full price, the carrier did not need to subsidize the phone and therefore should not be able to apply limitations, in this case carrier locking the phones. On the topic of contracts, if the customer signs up for a contract and receive a discounted phone price in return, my belief is the carriers are not required to, unless they choose to do so, provide an unlock code for the phone while the customer is under the contract term. However I do believe that they should be required to provide the code once the contract term is completed. When completing the contract, similarly to buying the phone off-contract, the phone in actuality has been fully paid for, in this case by fulfilling the duration of the terms.
A few of the Big 3, namely Telus and Rogers, have slowly begun offering unlock codes to customers. While offering unlock codes are a great start, Rogers and Telus are offering these codes for many of their phones for an outrageous $50! In comparison, many of the codes can be found for as little as a couple of dollars, as mentioned earlier, by third party vendors. So why are the large carriers charging exorbitant rates for unlock codes? To put it simply, it’s because they can, and also to make unlocking your devices a less attractive prospect. Notable carriers like T-Mobile cell phone plans, in the USA, and Wind Mobile, here in Canada, offer unlock codes to their devices once every 3 months of service. It would be great if all carriers could follow in their footsteps, but even offering unlock codes at the least once every 12 months would be a friendly gesture. When in a contract, the customer is ultimately locked in to pay the carrier every month or even if they were to terminate their contracts early, the early cancellation fees should equal or in most cases exceed the cost of the subsidy. In essence, the carrier is not in any disadvantage when unlocking their phones as early as possible. However as I mentioned earlier, the carrier wants the user to remain on their network for as long as possible and while the phone is locked, the user cannot transfer to any other network, thus not leaving much choice.
To conclude, carriers should be required to offer unlock codes to customers that have purchased phones off-contract or when their contract terms are completed. There is no reason, other than greed, why this action has not been executed. If carriers are threatened that customers may leave once their phones are unlocked, then they should be concerned about surveying those potential customers about their reasons. In honesty, it’s not to say that all customers will leave once their devices have been unlocked, especially if the service they’ve received has been satisfactory. One of the largest concerns in our country is roaming charges. When a carrier charges upwards of $1.5/minute for voice while in the US and local carriers charge $2/day for unlimited domestic talk, why should we not take advantage of more reasonable and affordable rates? SIM limitations placed by carriers should not interfere with our decision. In this instance, sure the Big 3 carriers may not be able to offer such low roaming rates, but making the rates more reasonable is one solution.