American carriers are making progress in being more open and customer-friendly — particularly T-Mobile — but Sprint is preparing to take a significant step forward by ensuring that the devices they sell to customers are able to be SIM unlocked. Eventually. In 2015. In an FAQ on Sprint's unlocking policy, the company states that they are "working to ensure that all devices developed and launched on or after February 11, 2015 are capable of being unlocked domestically."
Seeing as more and more phones these days (including high profile devices like the Apple iPhone 5s and Samsung Galaxy S5) are being built with the CDMA radios that Sprint and Verizon need in addition to the GSM radios that everybody else uses, the only thing holding them back are restrictions like these carrier locks. Even T-Mobile, the self-proclaimed Uncarrier — still locks phones sold in their stores to their network. By making the phones that they sell capable of a domestic carrier unlock, Sprint customers will be able to take their phones to other networks if they leave.
From Sprint's unlocking policy:
Sprint does note that many devices they currently sell will not be able to be unlocked. Sprint-branded iPhones, for example, "have been manufactured in a way that prevents them from being unlocked". So while phones that Sprint plans to sell in a year's time will be able to have their SIM locks lifted, there's no guarantee a phone you buy today or before February 11, 2015 will support such an unlock. And, of course, the phone actually needs to offer the radio support for it to be worth unlocking to begin with.
That said, it's still a step forward and a commitment to openness that other carriers haven't yet made. What do you think — is Sprint making the right move here?
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Derek Kessler is Special Projects Manager for Mobile Nations. He's been writing about tech since 2009, has far more phones than is considered humane, still carries a torch for Palm, and got a Tesla because it was the biggest gadget he could find. You can follow him on Twitter at @derekakessler.