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Unlock a CDMA phone? How to switch CDMA carriers and keep the phone

Unlock a CDMA phone? How to switch CDMA carriers and keep the phone

switch CDMA carriers

If you have read the differences between CDMA and GSM unlocking procedures, we can further consider the options a subscriber has when owning a CDMA phone.

Usually in US, carriers don’t accept any particular phones onto their network. They use network-based white lists of ESN/MEIDs to verify their subscribers, so they know if a phone that isn’t on their network is trying to be activated. CDMA carriers check for clean/bad ESNs, and have the possibility to see if a phone has a foreign ESN.

Most CDMA cellphones are unlocked and the SPC (Service Provider Code) is 000000. The unlock code has usually no relevance when activating your phone on a different CDMA network. Also consider that a CDMA phone can not be used on a GSM network provider no matter if it is unlocked or not. 

Carriers block activation for their unsold phones based on the ESN/MEID. Changing the ESN of a phone is illegal and complicated. CDMA carriers use antifraud systems that detects ESN clones and duplicates and also can figure if an ESN from an unsold phone is used. These systems automatically deactivate your phone.

How to activate your CDMA phone with a different carrier?

Some CDMA carriers will let you bring a phone from a different CDMA carrier, usually if they sell the same model or a similar phone themselves. If you have a CDMA phone, you can switch to other network provider only with the carrier permission and you need to check three things:

  • Your phone must use the same radio technology as the new carrier.
  • Your phone must use the same frequency bands.
  • The new carrier must accept the phone onto their network.

To be able to move a CDMA phone between carriers, you should follow the steps below:

  • Call the receiving carrier and ask them to activate your phone onto their network. If your phone is compatible with the radio technology and frequency bands used by the receiving CDMA carrier, the phone can be reprogrammed to the new provider’s specifications by a process called “flashing”, if the carrier decides to do it.
  • Once they agree to have your CDMA phone onto their network, give the customer service representative all the necessary phone details and your personal data. In most cases the new carrier is able to activate your phone over the air. Choose a subscription plan and make all necessary payments.
  • If you manage to move your phone between carriers, there is a possibility that many of the features will not work correctly unless someone with technical knowledge reprograms the phone to your provider’s specifications. Carrier’s specific provided services like music stores and the carrier’s GPS navigation program may not work on your new carrier.

In practice:

Generally Verizon and Sprint simply refuse to allow each other’s devices onto their networks, being in deadly competition. But if you have a CDMA phone from a different carrier than Sprit, it is possible that Verizon will accept your phone even if it has foreign ESN.

You can use another CDMA carrier’s phone on Verizon if you fill a request sheet and send it to the carrier together with your phone. In a few weeks your phone will come back, all programmed for Verizon. Depending on the phone the reprogramming may also be made over the air.

MetroPCS was definitely the more flexible carrier with re-orienting other CDMA carriers’ phones to MetroPCS’s software, as long as the phone had the right frequency bands. Beginning with 2013, MetroPCS ended its “MetroFLASH “ CDMA handset flashing service, which allowed customers to bring their current CDMA devices in the MetroPCS network.

MetroPCS and Verizon are using different radio frequencies in some cities, and Verizon phones don’t have the right technology to reach MetroPCS’s channel. If your phone isn’t equipped with the right frequency band, it will not work on the new carrier. This is the reason why many Verizon phones won’t work with MetroPCS in some locations, and why AT&T phones can only get 2G standard on T-Mobile.

Traveling with a CDMA phone

CDMA offers no multiband capability being quite difficult to use your phone in multiple countries when traveling, as CDMA phones are incompatible with all GSM networks (also lack of SIM card). Nevertheless, today, CDMA network providers have certain smartphones, like iPhone 5, that have embedded Quad-band GSM and can be used internationally with special calling plans from the carrier.

If you’re thinking to travelling abroad, please consider that you might not be able to use your CDMA phone. You’ll need to check the carriers from your destination country and  find  which system they are using GSM/CDMA. In many popular European destinations like France and UK, all mobile networks use only GSM, so if you own a CDMA device then your handest will not be able to connect to any UK mobile network at all.

It is useful to know that some CDMA carriers are offering global services that are basically giving any subscriber a loaner phone to use abroad. An example is Verizon Wireless, which offers the users a replacement phone they can reserve when intending to going abroad, that can be activated just before leaving on a trip and can be used while travelling.

When activating the replacement phone your current phone will be deactivated for the entire travelling period and can be reactivated at return. The loaner phone is automatically synchronizing your contacts and calendar. The phone must be returned to the carrier by FedEx prepaid Verizon Wireless at the end of the trip. There is a $20 guarantee to pay for shipping the global-usable phone back and forth, amount that will be refunded to you by the carrier. You’ll also need to sign up for a global voice plan and a global data plan, whose monthly fees are prorated for the actual time you have them on your account.


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