When you’re buying a new phone, especially through a telco, it’s important to know if your phone is unlocked. While locking phones to a particular telco is not as common a practice as it used to be, this doesn’t mean every phone is guaranteed to be unlocked.
The telco industry is extremely competitive, with smaller MVNOs offering a variety of plans at a variety of price points. So, to ensure you have the most flexibility, it may be worth ensuring that your phone is unlocked, so you can shop around for the best deals. Canstar Blue explains how to tell if your phone is locked and, if it is, how to get it unlocked.
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The following table shows a selection of sponsored SIM Only plans on Canstar Blue’s database with links to referral partners.
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What does it mean for a phone to be ‘locked’?
Also referred to as SIM locking or network locking, a locked phone is a device that is is tied to its original mobile network carrier (eg. Telstra, Optus, etc.) and unable to be used with another provider. This means that SIMs from other providers won’t work unless you get the phone unlocked.
Whilst locking phones to a network used to be a standard practice, and is still common in other countries such as the US, it’s not as common in Australia now. The exception to this is phones sold as a part of a prepaid deal.
Do I need an unlocked phone?
Whilst you don’t necessarily need an unlocked phone, it can be helpful to have one. Having an unlocked phone essentially gives you the freedom to switch providers if you find a better deal elsewhere. Of course, if you bought your phone on a plan then you will have to pay off the remainder of the contract before you can switch, so make sure you understand what you’re signing up for before making the commitment.
In saying this, if you’re happy with your provider, it is not critical that your phone is unlocked. However, the Australian telco market is fairly competitive, which means that there may be a plan out there that suits your needs and offers more value for money than the one you’re currently on.
Another reason that it may be useful to have an unlocked phone is if you’re planning on any overseas travel. International roaming can be expensive, especially if you’re going for an extended period of time, and so many travellers find it works out more cost effective to simply pick up a SIM from their destination. Unfortunately, if your phone is locked to an Aussie telco, then the alternative SIM won’t work without unlocking your device first.
How do I know if my phone is unlocked?
There are a couple of simple ways to determine whether or not your device is locked to a provider. For starters, if you bought your phone outright, then it will be unlocked. If that is not the case, the easiest way to tell is to contact your telco directly and just ask them.
If you have an iPhone, you’ll be able to find the status of your phone in Settings. Otherwise, you could try putting in a SIM card from another provider – if it doesn’t work then chances are your phone is locked.
Your phone being locked is not the only thing that could keep you with a particular provider. If your contact has a minimum period, or if you’re paying for your phone on a plan, then trying to leave early may incur a fee, or at least having to pay out the remainder of your repayments in full.
Looking for a new phone plan? Compare SIM-only plans
If you have an unlocked phone and you’re looking for a new SIM-only plan, the following tables show a range of postpaid and prepaid phone plans from a range of providers. Switch between the tabs to compare prepaid and postpaid plans.
Here is a selection of postpaid plans from Canstar Blue’s database with a minimum of 10GB of data, listed in order of standard cost, lowest to highest, then by data allowance, largest to smallest. Try using our mobile phone plan comparison tool to see a wide range of plans from other providers. This table includes products with links to referral partners.
Here is a selection of prepaid plans from Canstar Blue’s database with a minimum of 10GB of data each month, listed in order of standard cost, lowest to highest, then by data allowance, largest to smallest. If you want to compare a larger range of offers from other providers, use our phone plan comparison tool. This table includes products with links to referral partners.
How do I unlock my phone?
This process can differ from telco to telco, but if you find out that your phone is locked then your best bet is to just contact your provider. You will most likely be required to find your IMEI (International Mobile Equipment Identity) device serial number, which can be obtained from your phone’s settings. This information will be located in the ‘About’ section which would also contain details such as model and storage size. Where this section is located is going to differ slightly between phone brands.
If you can’t find your IMEI number in settings, your alternative is to dial *#06# on your device. Thefirst 15 digits to appear are going to be your IMEI number.
Once you do have this number, you’ll be able to get in touch with your provider to request your device be unlocked. Depending on which telco you’re with, this may incur a fee, so make sure you check in advance whether this is the case to ensure you’re willing or able to pay this charge.
Some telcos, such as Vodafone or Optus, offer online unlocking tools if you don’t want to give them a call or visit in store. We have outlined a general step-by-step guide below:
- Find the IMEI number for your device
- Either call your provider or check the website for an online unlocking tool
- Pay the unlocking fee if applicable
- Enter in your unlocking code to your phone if prompted when you insert the new SIM
Note: It may take some providers up to 72 hours for the unlock to take effect.
If you have an unlocked phone and are looking for a better deal, our free comparison tool is a great place to start, showing you a variety of options currently available to assist you in your comparison journey.
For more detailed information about locked phones from Telstra, Optus or Vodafone, you can read our brand-specific guides: