Unlocking a cell phone

Candlestick phoneHaving managed to grow up in an age of landlines, I don’t feel the pressing need to always be at the beck & call of well, everyone. In addition, cellphone companies are a fertile source of customer service experiences to ridicule, with service & data plans in Canada that are the most expensive in the world. 

To me cellphones aren’t an essential device, just handy as hell. It peeves me that monthly cell plans cost so much for the privilege of using one however, so until recently my cellphone of choice was a cheapo flip phone (LG160) using a Virgin Mobile prepaid card to top up my account once a year. (There’s another rant in there somewhere about how buying a top up card with cellphone minutes can expire when other gift and prepaid cards are required to have no expiry by law. But I digress.) My flip phone ceased working after leaving it outside in the rain–long story–which brings me to this post.

One of the disadvantages of having a prepaid flip phone is it does not work in the U.S. Normally if one has a phone plan, it comes with a built in agreement between Canadian/U.S. carriers and all you have to do is fork over the roaming charges. An alternative is to buy a prepaid phone in the U.S.–and often there are great deals on these such as from GoPhone, Boost, or Tracfone that include a prepaid card for the number of minutes you want.

In shopping for a new cellphone I had a list of criteria:

  • Must use SIM card and work on Bell (Virgin Mobile) network
  • Must be a prepaid phone
  • Must have a keyboard, either virtual or physical
  • Must have a touchscreen
  • Nice to have SD memory card
  • Good battery life
  • Positive reviews 
  • Inexpensive $50 – $100

Having as many features as possible for the price was ideal, and it took some research to find the phone with everything on my wish list. The reason I wanted to remain with Virgin Mobile is I’ve been happy with the service and network coverage. Around here other alternatives are Fido, Telus, PC, and Rogers–your region may have these or different carriers.

The top consideration was the phone should use a SIM card so I would be able to change carriers simply by switching SIM cards (more on that later). Until reading up on new cellphones, I had the general idea there are two kinds of cell networks in the world: CDMA and GSM, and phones are designed to only work on one or the other. Turns out it’s more complex than that, with carriers using different bandwidths, and 2G & 3G networks. Bottom line: it’s important to ensure the cell phone device will be compatible with the carrier’s network, or it simply will not work.

So, final decision:  the HTC Desire C $99 from Virgin Mobile. One of the selling points for this particular model was the newer Android operating system.

Contacts were able to be synced (transfer) via Bluetooth from the old phone which saved lots of time. As a Smartphone it has other features besides phone and text, including a browser & email. The phone can connect to WiFi if I want to use those tools, and I also buy a $10/month data add on from Virgin Mobile, for when I am going to be travelling. Some of the reviews were critical of the camera and performance, but to me, the price point is consistent with the features and I have not downloaded wallpaper, games or apps, and don’t use for Facebook so have not experienced problems with loading.

Which brings me to the reason I bought a prepaid Smartphone with a SIM card: using the phone when travelling in the U.S. When travelling with a Smartphone, the potential exists to replace the SIM card with one from a local carrier, purchasing airtime, and you’re good to go. This is not possible with cellphones that are locked to their carrier, particularly iPhones or if you have a contract that included a ‘free’ phone; so this may not work for you.

Website screenshotThe first thing I had to do was unlock the phone which is easily done in three steps (1) installing a new carrier’s SIM card, (2) entering the unlock code, (3) activating the SIM card with new carrier & local phone number. Done. There are a number of internet sites that can provide the unlock code for a modest fee once you provide them with your device’s ID (IMEI); the one I used came back within 30 minutes, and despite the URL can unlock other phones besides HTC. I bought the AT&T GoPhone SIM and $25 prepaid minutes card from RadioShack.

Now that it’s unlocked, I’m looking forward to being able to use my cellphone in other places like UK or Europe (I wish!); the phone only has to be unlocked once.

Like what you read here? Get my weekly newsletter in your inbox! Your email address is only used for this purpose.

About Leslie

Trying a little bit of everything: writing, learning Wordpress & basic coding, cooking, playing with grandkids, travelling, gardening, making soap & body treats, and getting older. Not necessarily in that order.


  1. Kay Stallard says

    this is well researched,,but wait awhile I expect the next generation will be .born with one in the ear ,Look at the last eighty-five years of change