Sunday, August 26, 2007

The art of unlocking cell phones

Before I left for vacation, I'd already decided that it was time to upgrade to a better cell phone (not made of cheap plastic and that might actually have a signal while I'm at work). My dream was to have a gsm phone that I could have a US carrier SIM card for, and then just buy a chip in El Salvador. I went all over (Findlay, Detroit, Cincinnati, DC, if you can consider that "all over") and found that pretty much all phones are sold "locked" to a certain carrier. Everyone said to check e-Bay. Not enough time for that. I found one place in Cinti, a half hour before it closed, that said they could unlock a phone for me for a certain cost. Oh well. I resigned myself to the fact that I would have to buy a phone in El Salvador.

So, I went to Tigo, and found a phone I liked at a price I liked, but due to the confusing nature of my job and were I'm paid, I didn't have all the documents that they needed. Okay. Then a friend found a friend that he hadn't seen for a while that works at Digicel, another carrier here. I am now the proud owner of a Motorola PDA/phone, for a mere $40 a month, on only a 12 month contract.

How can this be??!! US carriers always wanted me to sign a 2-year plan, with a phone that I can't use with any other service. I remember those unhappy days of having a Sprint phone. And this Digicel phone, while locked, can be taken on a short trip to see unlocking "professionals" downtown, and can then be used with any carrier. So I can buy a $1 SIM card when I go to Nicaragua next week, if I go back to Colombia I can use my card from there, and wonder of all wonders, can get a chip the next time I'm back in Ohio and use a pre-paid service.

This article in the NY Times this morning talks about some teen that figured out a way to unlock the iPhone so that you don't have to have a contract with AT&T. Seems fair, being that maybe I'd rather stick with T-Mobile or Verizon. And for me, it's not that I don't want the Digicel plan. It's that roaming is expensive and I'm traveling enough to feel like I need a way to call if my car catches on fire in the middle-of-nowhere Honduras and I'm not brave enough to put it out with my handy fire extinguisher.

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