Are you being held hostage by your cellular carrier? There may be a way to free yourself: Buy an unlocked cell phone.
Unlocked phones are cell phones that can be purchased without a cellular contract and used on multiple carriers. For example, an unlocked GSM phone could be used on either Cingular or T-Mobile services. You simply purchase a compatible phone online or at a retailer, then choose which carrier to use. Typically, cell phones in the U.S. are sold with a service and locked to that service. In other words, the phone you get with Verizon’s package will only recognize a Verizon SIM (Subscriber Identity Module) card. Unlocked phones, on the other hand, will recognize SIM cards from a variety of carriers.
So, with an unlocked phone you can switch carriers without switching phones. Furthermore, should your phone die (as one of ours did, but I’m not pointing any fingers), you can simply pop out the phone’s SIM card (usually located under the phone’s battery) and put it in a new unlocked phone. You don’t have to wait for an authorized dealer to repair your old phone or submit to the extortion carriers charge for a new phone.
Expect to see more unlocked phones offered this year, such as the forthcoming HP iPaq 510 Voice Messenger. The phone is expected to be introduced in coming weeks in an unlocked version for less than $300. The 510 model I’ve been testing works on either Cingular/AT&T or T-Mobile networks. It boasts a raft of features, including the requisite Bluetooth and built-in camera features, as well as voice commands to help you switch between functions (very handy, indeed). Based on the latest Windows Mobile 6 software, the Voice Messenger also lets you dictate audio messages you can send as e-mail, and it includes built-in Wi-Fi so that you can do things like place calls free of charge over the Internet using programs like Skype.
Personally, I love the HP Voice Messenger phone and hope it augurs the release of more unlocked models like it. Several manufacturers, such as Motorola and Nokia, already offer unlocked phones they sell directly to consumers online. And companies such as Samsung wish that all phones in the U.S. were unlocked. Why? Because then their products could compete strictly on their merits—and, of course, we’d upgrade our phones more often.