An unlocked smartphone can be used on any network anywhere. Having an unlocked phone means you aren’t tied to a particular network or call plan, which has obvious benefits. The IMEI is a unique serial number that identifies each device like a MAC address.
Also see our article iPhone Won’t Turn On – Try These Fixes
The benefits of an unlocked phone
The majority of users will not benefit at all from an unlocked smartphone as they will be content with their call plan and provider. However, if you want to move providers or use multiple SIM cards in the same phone, you will need to be unlocked. If you are planning to sell your handset once you are finished with it, unlocked ones sell for more money so it is well worth doing if you can.
There are two types of smartphone unlock, a factory unlock and aftermarket unlock. They both do the same thing but the factory unlock means the phone was never locked to a network provider and can roam freely. The aftermarket unlock means it was either professionally unlocked after being bought or unlocked by the user. Either way, the effect is the same. You get a phone that you can use anywhere, on any network.
The IMEI, or International Mobile Equipment Identity, is a unique serial number that is imprinted into every device in the world. It helps identify lost or stolen phones as well as allowing networks to identify handsets on their network. They are universal but unique, so an IMEI in the U.S. is the same format as one in Taiwan but no two are exactly the same.
To find your IMEI number, hit ‘*#06#’. It works the same on any phone iPhone, Android, Windows or whatever. The main image of this article shows my IMEI. It is for a Samsung Galaxy S7 and I have removed some of the serial just in case. You get the idea of what you’re looking for though.
Older iPhones, 5, 5C and 5S also had their IMEI printed on the back.
There are a couple different ways to find out if your phone is unlocked or not. There are a number of websites that claim to be able to tell if your phone is locked or unlocked by entering your IMEI. Many of these websites have been found to provide incorrect information so if you want to use one, choose with care. I don’t like the idea of entering my phone’s unique identifier into a random website so would never use one.
Try these instead.
Try a different SIM
The simplest way to find out if your handset is unlocked is to try a SIM card from a different carrier. If it picks up the network and a signal, your phone is unlocked. If it doesn’t pick up the carrier or a signal, or says SIM error or words to that effect, chances are that the phone is locked.
You don’t have to buy a new SIM, although they are cheap. Just borrow one for a minute and see if it works. It costs nothing and nothing negative will happen to the SIM or the account if you try it in a different handset.
Check if your iPhone is unlocked
The iPhone comes with a couple of checks you can make to see if it is carrier locked or not. These are the easiest ways to find out the status.
- Open Settings and Cellular.
- Check for Cellular Data Network.
- If you see Cellular Data Network, your phone is likely unlocked. If you don’t see it, it is likely locked.
This method is not 100% effective as it has been known to give a false reading. However it is a quick way to find out the status if you don’t have a spare SIM. Fortunately, you can also check using iTunes. The downside is that to check it, you have to wipe it which is a bit of a hassle.
- Back up your iPhone.
- Connect it to your computer and open iTunes on the computer.
- Navigate to iTunes Settings and hit Reset to wipe the phone.
- While still connected, click Restore Backup to get all your data back.
Look for a message ‘Congratulations your phone has been unlocked’. If you see this message, you’re using an unlocked phone. If you don’t see the message, you’re not.