Unlocking Cingular/ATT Phones bought on eBay

Microsoft, Mobility
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One of the most common questions people have when they see my collection of Windows Mobile phones is how we get them, are we made of money? Apparently so, since Katie is now even giving away handsets, box and all.

The second question usually follows me saying “it’s locked to…” – Whoa, whoa, whoa, what do you mean by “locked” and in the mobile world that word takes on a few meanings. In a general sense, “locked” means that you don’t have access to a particular part of the phone. Some locks are enforced by the manufacturer, some by the carrier, some by the user and some even by users stupidity. The most common are:

  • Sim locked – can’t put your own SIM from another carrier and expect the phone to work. Most common case with USA carriers, because T-Mobile doesn’t want you taking the Dash to an AT&T account and AT&T would rather die than see a Blackjack on T-mobile.
  • Bootloader locked – Stops you from loading your own “cooked rom” onto the device.
  • Application locked – For security purposes, stops the applications that haven’t been digitally signed from modifying the registry.
  • PIN locked – Your usual password protection that you should have on your device. 


So, what does any of this have to do with AT&T or Cingular you ask? Well, my main number is on T-Mobile. Meaning that pretty much every device that comes into Casa de Vlad needs to be able to run using my SIM card from T-Mobile, even if its an AT&T device. More importantly, if you aren’t stupid (enough to sign a two or more year contract on a phone that will fall apart with heavy use well within the first year) you are always better off buying the phone off eBay. eBay market for used / preowned GSM phones is like heaven because they are ridiculously poor in quality – meaning lots and lots of refurbs because they tried to shave 2 cents off the battery cost and now brand new phones end up on eBay, stickers and all. But, if you’re awake at the right hour of the day you can get that $500 phone for less than $200 sometimes even less than $100.

But, when that new cell phone comes in, it will be locked. You will put your SIM card in and as Windows Mobile boots they will let you know that the SIM card you are trying to use is not supported that the device is locked and that you need to type in an unlock code or move your account to AT&T.

Not so fast.. Start the phone up, dismiss the warning, type in *#06# and hit send. It will echo back your IMEI number, which is usually also printed on the sticker inside your battery compartment. Call Cingular / AT&T and say the following:

I just purchased a _Phone Model Here_ from eBay and want to use it with my own SIM card on another network. I was told I could call you and obtain an unlock code for a used, eBay phone.

They will take the usual blood sample and the like and call you with the unlock code in up to 7 days. Don’t feel like waiting – plenty of places on the net will “unlock” your phone for just a few dollars meaning no more long contracts for emerging technology (which is often just plain broken and will not last the length of the contract no matter how much you baby it)

In terms of legality, in USA, SIM card unlocking is legal.

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