Tales of trying to unlock a phone

December 12 2012 by Ellen Roseman

It pays to ask up front if a mobile device can be unlocked, as my column says today. Many people find they can’t get their phones unlocked when they try to do so later.

I’m posting stories below about readers’ difficulties in asking their carriers about unlocking. Some are quite funny in relating the hassles they encountered along the way.

Is it an abuse to have phones locked to a carrier’s network? Some people say Canadians have the most expensive wireless networks in the world and pay the highest fees for international data roaming.

The Public Interest Advocacy Centre wants to shrink our inflated data roaming rates. Here’s one way to do it:

Canadian wireless providers should be required to implement a monthly bill limit for data roaming to safeguard consumers against bill shock. The monthly limit would be chosen by the subscriber or default to $50, in addition to the subscriber’s monthly fees.

In addition, wireless providers should temporarily suspend data service when the subscriber incurs roaming fees exceeding this limit.

While the CRTC isn’t ready to regulate yet, it held an online consultation to prepare for the mandatory implementation of a wireless code of conduct. Here’s a link to the top 100 “liked” comments.

The three-year contract attracted the most complaints in the CRTC discussions. And as many readers point out, unlocking a phone doesn’t help much when you’re still locked into a long-term commitment with your carrier.

Law professor and Star columnist Michael Geist makes this point clearly in a 2010 entry:

The issue of locked cellphones has long been a source of consumer fear and frustration, since some wondered whether unlocking phones that were rendered unusable when switching wireless providers was legal. In certain respects, this was an odd question to even have to ask.

No one would ever question whether consumers have the right to tinker with their car or to use the same television if they switch providers from cable to satellite, yet the wireless industry somehow convinced the public that unlocking their phones – consumers’ own property – was wrong.

Finally, blogger Darryl Moore argues that preventing carriers from locking phones is the first step. We also have to talk about the way that smart phone manfacturers stop you from “jailbreaking” in order to run different software.

Not only do we need laws prohibiting the locking of cell phones to specific cellular networks. We need laws prohibiting the locking of cell phones to specific manufacturers, allowing them to decide what software will run on your phone or not.

Indeed without this prohibition, the first one is sort of useless, as there is nothing stopping the manufacturers from acting like a proxy for the network providers and imposing the same or similar restrictions on your phone that the network providers no longer can.

23 comments

  1. JK

    Dec 12 2012

    I recently left Rogers Wireless to go back to Bell Mobility. Bell Mobility has a lot more coverage in Newfoundland, and when I go to visit the Rock, I like to have cell service.

    I had signed a 3 year contract for an iPhone 3GS in June 2009. But after getting into the hot tub with it a few months later, I purchased another iPhone 3GS outright in October 2009.

    Fast forward to June 2012. My contract is up, my phone is completely paid for. This is the phone I purchased at a Best Buy store.

    When I ported my number back to Bell Mobility, my phone did not work with Bell — or with Rogers.

    Over the next two days, I would argue with Rogers about having my phone unlocked. They kept saying it could not be done.

    It was not until I threatened to go to the media that they were unable to unlock my phone with a $50 charge, but I had to call back the next day when the unlocking queue would be open.

    Day 2, I call back and ask to speak to the unlocking queue. They tell me tat it is not possible to unlock my phone, for the account is not active. (When you port a number to another company, the account is automatically closed.)

    After a little more pressure and quoting a reference number I received the night before from a Rogers representative, the unlocking queue was able to unlock my iPhone with a $50 charge after all!

    It took the Rogers rep a whole two minutes – literally – to send the command to iTunes. I plug my phone into iTunes, and voila! It’s now unlocked.

    It took a lot of calling and call transferring over two days, not to mention a lot of frustration, but I got it unlocked! My only service with Rogers is now internet.

  2. RR

    Dec 12 2012

    I moved from Vancouver to Australia. While I was in Canada, I joined a plan with Telus to use my Blackberry and iPhone for my wife.

    Well, it’s been a year since we have been here and my wife has not been able to use her iPhone. The Blackberry has no issues, as I was able to get that unlocked by a 3rd party, but the iPhone is locked to Telus and no way around it.

    I’ve spoken to Australian carriers, which all can unlock the iPhone for the customers, but not Telus. I have also spoken to Apple care and found the same thing.

    I have contacted Telus several times and got the same answer, “no, we can’t.” The bad part of all this is that I am continuing to pay for my subscription.

    ———————————————————–

    Well I have great news. Telus responded, stating they have initialized the unlock procedure for my iPhone and all I need to do is complete a sync with my desired carrier. FANTASTIC!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    I would like to thank you for all your efforts and help in the matter. Much appreciated.

    And yes, I can finally use the iPhone…I don’t know why I hadn’t thought of this before.

  3. GC

    Dec 12 2012

    My family are loyal customers of Bell. We have never had phone service with any other company.

    We currently have one land line and three cell phone lines, including my daughter’s.

    Several months ago, my daughter’s BlackBerry died. She does freelance work for a small public relations firm and must use her own phone and computer to work for that company.

    To avoid losing her chance to work, she decided to use some of her hard-earned money to buy an iPhone. She purchased the phone outright, as she wasn’t sure whether she was going to continue to work for the firm or go back to school outside Toronto.

    She bought an iPhone4 at a Bell store. At no point did anyone at the store indicate that the phone was and would continue to be locked to Bell.

    She recently decided to enter a post-degree program in the United States. She needs to take her phone with her.

    However, Bell says that it will not unlock the phone and Apple says that it is up to the carrier (Bell) whether to unlock the phone.

    Both Bell and Apple have suggested that I take the phone to a third party to have it unlocked. That would be fine with me and the unlocking fee is not an issue; however, having a third party unlock the phone will invalidate the warranty, which is unacceptable.

    I have spent hours on the phone with various Bell people, and have asked (always politely) to have my inquiry escalated to a more senior person, but have been told that there is no one else that I can speak to who can do anything to help me.

    Call me crazy, but if the phone is locked to Bell, surely Bell can make the decision to unlock the phone. Since they refuse to unlock it, the other acceptable alternative would be to refund the cost of the phone, but that suggestion was also rejected.

    My daughter paid full price for this phone, and in my book, that should mean that she owns it. However, it appears to me that Bell considers that they own the phone.

    If Bell can unlock the phone before Dec. 27 (which is when my daughter is leaving for the United States), that would be fine. I was told that there was no one at Bell I could speak to about that.

    If you can assist in resolving this bizarre situation, I and my daughter would very much appreciate it.

    ——————————————————–

    Dear Ms. C,

    This is further our last conversation about unlocking your daughter’s IPhone.

    We will unlock the Iphone but only at the end of your contract. The contract will end on Dec. 22nd. It will cost you $75 to unlock the phone.

    I thank you for giving Bell the opportunity to respond to our concerns and hope the above clarifies the matter for you.

    Sincerely yours,

    Customer Relations Associate – Bell Executive Office

    ———————————————————–

    Hi Ellen:

    I dug out the receipt for the BlackBerry phone that my daughter bought in 2009.

    She paid almost $500 for it, but in the fine print, it indicates that because the store gave her a (rather measly) $100 price reduction, she was locked into a 36 month contract.

    I didn’t know about that detail. And several Bell people I spoke to over the last few months said she was not under contract – go figure.

    ———————————————————–

    Jason Laszlo, Bell spokesman:

    Starting in November this year, Bell unlocks an iPhone for post-paid customers who are no longer on a contract. A $75 fee applies.

    Regarding Ms. C’s daughter, her original request to unlock came before the start of our iPhone unlocking program.

    Now that the program is in place, she is free to unlock at the end of her contract on Dec. 22.

    To be clear, this is the contract associated with her previous device, a subsidized BlackBerry, that she activated on a three year term on Dec. 23, 2009.

  4. DR

    Dec 12 2012

    I was listening to CBC and heard a guy talking about how he bought his cellphone at the Apple store outright, so he wouldn’t be tied into a three-year contract.

    But when he went to change providers, the one he had had “locked” the phone and he had to pay hundred to get it unlocked.

    I have now gone through the same thing twice, once with Virgin and now with Telus.

    I bought the Virgin phone outright rather than lock into a plan and then paid monthly. When I bought my new iphone, I stopped my service. So far so good.

    Then I gave my cellphone to my ex’s daughter and when she went to put it on the family’s Rogers plan, they found out at Rogers that Virgin had locked it and Virgin insisted on $150 to unlock it.

    It was cheaper for her to just get a phone on the family plan from Rogers than use the one I had that was perfectly good for free!

    Same thing happened with my iPhone. I paid almost $1,000 for it at the Apple store so I wouldn’t have to sign a three-year plan. I put it on Telus to start at the store.

    When my employer asked me to switch to Rogers so it could be direct billed to the company, rather than have me expensing it, I tried to switch the SIM card over. But the phone was locked in.

    I dropped $1,000 and I’d have to pay to get off the Telus plan, even when I never signed up for anything more than a month-to-month.

    What’s in it for Apple to “lock” the SIM card so that you have to pay to get it unlocked when you are buying the phone from them and it is someone else entirely who is providing the telephone service?

    ———————————————————-

    Thanks for your help in getting Apple and Telus to unlock the phone so I could port it to Rogers. Still, I wonder why I have to go through this procees to unlock my very own phone.

    I spoke to an Apple media rep, who couldn’t tell me why Apple would lock phones that people paid full price for. She just kept using the word unsubsidized versus unlocked, but ABSOLUTELY could not differentiate between the two.

    There is, it appears, no cost difference, no technical difference.

    In the end I knew nothing more than when I started, but when I persisted in asking her the difference between the two, she said she’d resolved my problem with Telus, so all was well.

  5. RG

    Dec 12 2012

    I am writing to you from Peru to share my recent experience. Here’s my story.

    I got an iPhone with Virgin Mobile and a contract for three years. The contract expires on Oct. 6, 2013.

    I was leaving for Peru for 10 months at the end of August 2012. At the beginning of July, I contacted Virgin to see if I could use my phone in Peru. Their international plan was very high and I needed alternatives.

    From that moment on, it played something like this.

    July 3 after 20 minutes:

    Donald – Get Apple to unlock the phone. Then put your phone on hold with us while you are away at $15 a month.

    Another day, after 20 minutes:

    Me – Apple will not unlock phones.

    Jessie – Apple unlocks phones.

    Another day, after 20 minutes:

    Me – I went to the Apple store, they do not unlock phones.

    Adele – conference call with Apple.

    Larissa, Apple Customer Care – Apple does not unlock this phone.

    Adele – Oh, I will call you back.

    A week later, after a 20 minute conversation:

    Me – Adele did not call me back and Jessie told me…

    Supervisor Jeff – Of course Apple can’t unlock your phone.

    You have to go to Pacific Mall. They will unlock your phone.

    Me – Is that legal?

    Jeff – They will unlock your phone.

    Another day, after 20 minutes:

    Me – But Jeff told me… and no one in Pacific Mall can unlock my iPhone 4 (OS 5 5.1.1 on Bell network).

    Nick – Pay $357.55 and cancel the contract.

    Me – Can I use the phone after I cancel the contract?

    Nick – No. You need to unlock the phone.

    Me – Won’t Virgin unlock the phone for me if I buy out the contract?

    Nick – No.

    Me – Then what can I do with my phone? Use it as a paperweight?

    Nick – Maybe you can sublet your phone, but you need to do a credit check first.

    Me – I do not want to. Do you know anyone that can unlock my phone?

    Nick – Maybe someone in Peru will unlock the iPhone.

    After many, many days of conversations:

    The day before leaving, I’m frustrated and resigned to buying another phone in Peru.

    Me – I am traveling to Peru. I want to put my phone on hold for 10 months.

    Chris – You can only put your phone on hold for 3 months.

    Me – But Donald said…

    Chris – How else do you want me to explain it to you? After 3 months, you have to pay full price, according to your plan.

    Me – But I will not be able to use my phone!

    Chris – total silence for quite a while.

    Me – What is your last name, Chris?

    Chris – I am not allowed to give my name.

    20 minutes later:

    Chris – My supervisor says we’ll do it, but you have to call every 3 months to put it on hold.

    Me – What is the name of your supervisor?

    Chris – Donna

    Me – Last name?

    Chris – We are not allowed to give last names.

    I discovered that nowadays employees do not stand for their company and vice versa. When you contact Virgin, you talk to a guy or gal. No last names.

    The chances a customer has of talking to the same person again are almost nil.

    The information provided may or may not be accurate and all you have is the memory of a conversation – and your word – that the conversation actually happened.

    Your word means nothing. Sometimes the call centre people are rude. Most times, they just want to get you off the phone and would say what they feel will accomplish just that.

    Twice, they promised to offer me alternatives and call me back or e-mail me. They never did.

    The truth is these type of companies have no incentive to satisfy me as a customer because I cannot take my business elsewhere. The people working there have no incentive to satisfy me either, because they work incognito.

    This was not the first time I have faced the lack of last names in negotiations. Fifteen years ago, I found it impossible to deal with Manulife Financial when I was requesting assistance for my son after 5 months of neonatal intensive care.

    The communications I received from this company were signed by an employee using first name only. Try finding “Mary” in a company like Manulife.

    It makes you wonder what is a company made of? Today, I guess, advertising and profits. But there was a time, not long ago, when employees made a company.

  6. DA

    Dec 12 2012

    On Aug, 4th, 2012, my 3 year contract on a voice and data plan (using an iPhone 3GS) with Rogers expired.

    My August bill was $94.13 after the 3-year plan “discounts” were removed. I paid the amount ($94.13) in full.

    Because my plan was no longer valid and assuming that I was now under no further obligation to Rogers, I decided to keep my phone number and move to another carrier (Bell Canada).

    I chose a plan with Bell and signed up on a month to month basis after being told that I need only purchase a $5.00 SIM card and have my number ported to the Bell network.

    After signing documents and having my new SIM card installed at a local Bell store, I proceeded to call Bell tech support (port management) to have my number rerouted from Rogers to Bell and have my service with Bell activated.

    After 2 hours, my number was switched from Rogers to Bell, but I could not connect to the Bell network.

    After numerous calls and attempts, I was told by a Bell technician that I needed to “unlock” my phone and that I could do so by going through a third party technician that charges a nominal fee to unlock these devices.

    After visiting a local shop and paying $30 to unlock “my” iPhone, I still could not connect to the Bell network (in spite of the phone indicating that my new carrier was in fact “Bell”).

    Another Bell technician then stated that ONLY Rogers could “unlock” my phone and that there would be a $50 fee for this service.

    Frustrated, but having no other choice but to rely on Rogers to “unlock” a device that I fully paid for after subsidizing the cost of the phone over a 3 year period, I called Rogers tech support.

    They confirmed that they could direct me to the “unlocking” department and unlock my iPhone, but only after first making a $50 payment through customer service.

    I called customer service, paid the $50 fee via credit card, placed a new call to Rogers tech support, and without any kind of software or hardware modifications at all, my iPhone was miraculously “unlocked” and I could now finally use the Bell network.

    I then called Rogers customer service to complain that Rogers didn’t actually “do” anything to my phone in order to “unlock” the device and asked why I would have to pay $50 for a seemingly mysterious service, given that the phone was now my property anyway.

    A Rogers customer service representative simply stated that that was the fee and that there was nothing they could do about the policy.

    I then escalated my complaint to a manager without success. I proceeded to call the CRTC, which directed me to the Commissioner for Complaints for Telecommunications Services (CCTS).

    On Aug. 23, I used the CCTS website to lodge a formal complaint against Rogers for the $50 unlock fee. I said that nowhere, within the terms and conditions of the contract that I signed three years ago, was there any stiplulation of a fee of any kind for unlocking my device.

    Given that I paid for the device in full (having been a customer for a full 3 years), it was now my property and I should be permitted to use it freely (including using it on another network).

    After a few days of processing, on Aug. 28, I received a call from the office of the president in Montreal, who reiterated Rogers’ position that they could not (and were unwilling to) waive the $50 unlock fee.

    They subsequently sent an e-mail (copying the CCTS), saying they had spoken with me and explained their position. Since I understood their rationale, they now considered the matter closed.

    I did not agree with the explanation that I received and sent a further e-mail (Aug 31, 2012) to the CCTS that I was proceeding with my complaint against Rogers.

    I received another invoice from Rogers for $65.70 for service they claim covers the period of Sept. 2-20, 2012.

    I have not used Rogers’ wireless service as of Aug. 21!
    Further, my final invoice covered a period up to and including Sept. 1, 2012!

    I called Rogers customer service to ask for clarififcation. A previous representative told me explicitly that there was no fee for porting over a number to a new network and that I was under no further obligation to Rogers, given my 3 year plan had expired as of Aug. 4th, 2012.

    I was told this was a “disconnect” fee charged for a period of 30 days after the cancellation date. And if I had called Rogers to inform them of the cancellation (30 days in advance), I would have lost access to my current cell number!

    I found this to be completely outrageous, unfair and contemptuous of consumers.

    I do not intend to pay a single cent of this invoice. I have added this issue to my current CCTS complaint, but fear the repercussions (interest, downgraded credit rating, etc.) if I do not pay what amounts to a “punitive” charge against me for transfering my service to a new carrier.

    Below are the monthly payments I made to Rogers over the three year period (August 2009 to August 2012):

    Aug 2009: $38.40
    Sep 2009: $440.19 (promotional cost of iPhone 3GS + monthly invoice)
    Oct 2009: $68.98
    Nov 2009: $68.05
    Dec 2009: $80.63

    Jan 2010: $68.31
    Feb 2010: $68.82
    Mar 2010: $67.97
    Apr 2010: $68.65
    May 2010: $68.82
    Jun 2010: $69.60
    Jul 2010: $66.22
    Aug 2010: $59.89
    Sep 2010: $61.75
    Oct 2010: $64.30
    Nov 2010: $64.47
    Dec 2010: $65.49

    Jan 2011: $62.95
    Feb 2011: $62.77
    Mar 2011: $60.23
    Apr 2011: $59.39
    May 2011: $60.80
    Jun 2011: $58.99
    Jul 2011: $60.02
    Aug 2011: $65.20
    Sep 2011: $67.86
    Oct 2011: $75.26
    Nov 2011: $74.98
    Dec 2011: $113.93

    Jan 2012: $73.22
    Feb 2012: $79.52
    Mar 2012: $65.90
    Apr 2012: $65.60
    May 2012: $68.81
    Jun 2012: $65.66
    Jul 2012: $70.40
    Aug 2012: $94.13
    Aug 2012: $50.00 (unlock fee)

    TOTAL: $2,946.16

    Sep 2012: $65.70 *(do not intend to pay this invoice)

    I am completely bewildered that companies like Rogers can be allowed to impose these charges upon consumers with impunity, but I suppose this is what happens with an industry that is largely unregulated!

    Canadians deserve better consumer protections and need to stand up against these kinds of abuses and have their voices heard.

  7. DD

    Dec 12 2012

    Suppose you bought a car from a friendly dealership near your home and paid it off in three years.

    Then you decided you wanted a new car and went to another dealership to trade it in.

    All goes well with negotiations until the new dealership informs you that your car is “locked” to your old dealership and you’ll have to pay them to get it “unlocked” before you can trade it in.

    How about real estate? You bought your home from Remax and, if you want to sell it, you have to pay Remax to “unlock” your house.

    I suspect you’ve heard all this before, but it seems like selling a product to someone without informing them that it’s locked and there’ll be a fee to unlock it borders on corporate extortion.

    I understand many wireless companies do this, but my beef has been with Rogers. Am I the only one who feels they’ve been blindsided by this outrageous business practice?

    Has anyone taken Rogers to court over this? How about a class action suit?

    I’m thinking that I have the time and energy to take Rogers to small claims court over the $50 fee and, if I get a judgement, others could use that as a precedent.

    Here’s a link to a story on a Class Action on behalf of cell phone users:

    http://business.financialpost.com/2012/06/28/canadas-telecom-giants-face-19-billion-class-action-suit-over-system-access-fees/

    It goes after money paid for System Access Fees, which I remember a Rogers Customer Service representative once explained to me was a charge from the federal government.

    The basis of this suit is the same as what I would suggest for a class action on the unlocking fees, i.e. “unjust enrichment” and “non-disclosure at the time of purchase”.

    For $50, someone at Rogers just has to hit a few keystrokes to send you a code to unlock your phone. Takes about a minute. I’d say $50 a minute is “unjust enrichment”.

    It’s hard to imagine, but it seems that the Supreme Court in the U.S. has ruled that AT&T, which has been criticized for the same abuses, cannot be sued or be subject to a class action.

    However, in Canada, the courts are allowing this case over system access fees to proceed, so the precedent has been set.

    Do you know any good lawyers in Toronto who want to spearhead such a case?

    Rather than refuse, I think I’ll just pay the $50, unlock my phone and then support an action against Rogers to recover the money. That way, they can’t charge interest on the invoice amount or hurt my credit rating and turn it over to one of those Credit Agencies that call you at five in the morning.

  8. PB

    Dec 12 2012

    Pretty much any Samsung Galaxy S phone/variant can be unlocked using a free app from the Google Play store.

    Also, just about any Blackberry can be easily unlocked for $0.99 from any number of eBay sellers, OR, if you want to wait 24 hours, there is a free unlock available too.

    Paying more than $10 to unlock a phone is foolish, IMHO, but to each his own.

    Also, as far as I understand it, iPhones are never truly unlocked. Because of Apple’s incredible dedication to profit above all else, they have designed their phones to be hardware relocked any time they are firmware “upgraded”.

    So buyer beware, if you foolishly buy an iPhone, then try to keep the firmware current, you risk being locked by greedy Apple…

  9. LR

    Dec 12 2012

    You state a specious reason given by carriers for not unlocking cell phones.

    To quote: ‘Telus charges a $35 fee to unlock phones for those who are on the network for at least three months. This rule stops people from buying subsidized phones and switching immediately to other carriers’ plans’.

    The fact is we cannot buy a subsidized phone without entering into at least a 2-year contract for phone service from a carrier and, in the case of an iPhone, 3 years.

    Unlocking does not result in people switching immediately to other carriers’ plans because of this liability.

    Why would anyone switch to another carrier for service when they are obligated to already pay their existing carrier for service?

    This would double their monthly cost and thereby more than negate the phone subsidy they received when they signed up.

    Yes, they can buy out the contract, but that costs a hefty fee, which is equal to or more than the phone subsidy in the first place.

    Furthermore, the unlocking policies of Bell, which govern their sub-brand Virgin Mobile, and Rogers, which govern their sub-brands Fido and Chatr, should be exposed as ridiculous.

    As you correctly point out, they will unlock after the contract is over. But, at that point people are more than ready to move on to new phones, which they are then entitled to under a subsidized price if they enter into a new contract.

    Also, the old phone is not worth much at that point, especially a 3-year old iPhone. They are then hardly willing to throw even more money at the phone to unlock it and attempt to sell it on Craigslist or Kijiji.

    And the fact is that it is not difficult to sell the phone locked or unlocked. Rather, the locked phone simply commands a bit of a discount.

    As you also note, the phone will also be unlocked by the carrier, for a fee, if the subsidized price of the phone is paid (i.e. the phone is paid for in full). This too is ludicrous.

    If one wants an unlocked phone, one might as well just buy it unlocked at full retail in the first place and not enter into a contract and avoid the unlocking fee.

    I have been a Fido subscriber for over 11 years (from the days it was called Microcell). I have never roamed on my phone except by accident when I forgot to turn my phone off when landing in a foreign country.

    I use local SIM cards when travelling and I was able to do so because I unlocked the iPhone 3GS I received locked under subsidy from Fido, using free software on the internet.

    My current phone is a iPhone 5, which I just received subsidized from Fido under a 3-year contract. I cannot unlock it, as the hackers have not yet devised software to do so, so I am keeping my 3GS for travel.

    I pay $66+HST for a wonderful plan from Fido, which includes unlimited minutes, 6GB data, voice mail and a bunch of extras. If Fido unlocked my iPhone 5, I could use it for travel.

    Why in the world would I want to pay another carrier for the same service in Canada when I already have to pay Fido? I signed a contract and received a subsidized phone to save money, not spend double.

    Now, witness my last few vacations.

    In the UK, I paid £15 ($23 CDN) for a 30-day unlimited data package from 3mobile which included 300 texts and 600 minutes of voice. We used 5GB of data in 10 days as we tethered our laptops and iPad in the hotel.

    Fido’s roaming charge would have been over $18,000 (+HST).

    In Argentina, I paid $2 USD for 2GB data for 2 days and renewed 6 times on a 12-day trip. Fido roaming? Over $4,000 for what I used.

    In the US, I paid $60 for an 30-day H20 Sim card with 1 GB data and voice and text. Fido roaming? $200.

    In Australia, I paid $70 with Vodaphone for a 30-day SIM with 2GB data, including voice and texts too. Fido? Over $3,000 for what I used.

    Fido or any other carrier will not lose any revenue from those of us who travel and simply won’t roam with our carrier because the cost to roam is astronomical (US excluded).

    We won’t jump ship to another carrier because that would cost us even more. In fact, the carriers would gain revenue because then we would pay them to unlock our phones.

    I might further add that unlocking using software on the internet is extremely safe.

    I never had a problem in the 2 years since I did so with my iPhone 3GS. Neither have any of my friends.

    It has also been ruled as legal by the courts in the US. The carriers only say it might void the warranty to scare you.

    As soon as the iPhone 5 is unlockable in this way, I will do it. That’s further unlocking revenue Fido will lose.

    There are also many 3rd party companies that will do the unlocking. Some simply use software from the internet that you can use yourself.

    The problem with that method is that when the phone software is updated (something you can avoid doing if you want), then the unlock is lost and the phone has to be unlocked again, but the hackers may have not yet devised a method to do so for the phone’s software update.

    Other 3rd party companies do so officially in a ‘factory unlocked’ manner by using contacts within the carrier companies that they pay to add the phone to the official ‘unlocked white list’ of phones.

    Once done, the phone is unlocked forever, regardless of whether any software updates are performed on the phone. But not all phones can be unlocked by both or either of these methods, the Fido iPhone 5 being one of them.

  10. MK

    Dec 12 2012

    I want to tell you about my experience with Virgin Mobile.

    I took an Apple Iphone 4 from Virgin Mobile in December 2010, in what was advertised at that time as the Super Tab way of owning a phone.

    The company took an initial amount towards the market price of the phone and put the remaining balance on a Super Tab.
    In my case, I paid $80 towards the phone and the rest of the $500 was put on as a super tab balance.

    The super tab is supposed to get paid off as follows: For every monthly bill you generate, 10% of credit is applied towards the supertab.

    If you have a $100 bill each month, you will pay off the super tab balance in 50 months, with 10 bucks getting applied towards the phone for 50 months.

    Although this turns out to be a longer option than a regular 36-month contract, I entered this agreement after being told the phone would be mine if I paid my super tab balance at any point of time.

    I was fed up with the billing procedures at Virgin Mobile and frequently had to call to get credits on the account after getting an incorrect invoice. I decided to cancel the service within one year.

    Even after paying the supertab balance, which was close to $430, the company refuses to unlock my Iphone. As a result, I now have a device that is still locked to Virgin Mobile and I can’t use it, in spite of paying the full price of the phone.

    Virgin Mobile customer care reps even suggested to get the phone unlocked from the market. Unfortunately, this is something that is not recommended by Apple and voids the phone warranty.

    I have tried complaining to the Commissioner for Complaints for Telecommunications Services (CCTS), but the result has not been fruitful.

    I tried requesting documents from the company through my CCTS complaint. I wanted to see if my service agreement with Virgin Mobile stipulates that the phone would remain locked to the Virgin network after the payment for the phone has been made. But I have not received anything that shows this information.

    I consider this as a consumer malpractice. I am also thinking of putting together a class action against the company since this probably affects many of their consumers.

  11. RP

    Dec 12 2012

    Last year, my daughter signed up for Koodo and bought a brand new Blackberry phone that cost approximately $600.

    The sale was made with the understanding that the Blackberry phone could be unlocked (software issue) to run on the Koodo network, as Koodo does not support Blackberry phones.

    Nothing was mentioned about voiding a warranty, as if the issue was software we would understand, but it is a HARDWARE issue not a SOFTWARE issue.

    The phone was unlocked and for months now there are HARDWARE issues with the phone that need to be addressed.

    We went to Koodo months ago and they could not send to RIM, as RIM does not accept returns from them. Koodo suggested going to Rogers.

    We went to Rogers and they cannot return the phone as the phone is not on their network. Rogers suggested we call RIM directly.

    We called RIM and they said that we must go through a retailer as they will not take phones in directly.

    My daughter finally got through to Telus who told her to go to Koodo and they stated that Koodo will address it. Once again, Koodo will not do anything.

    All this seems to be is to pass the buck to the next person, with no one resolving the issue.

    I do not understand why no one wants to take any accountability. As a stopgap measure, my daughter is not using her Blackberry as it has HARDWARE issues and is using an older Apple product that is still functioning properly from a HARDWARE standpoint.

    She will not buy another RIM product EVER unless this is addressed. I thought that RIM was looking for additional market share as their financial results were sinking.

    ———————————————————–

    Hello RP,

    I am reaching out to you on behalf of the Customer Loyalty Team at Research In Motion in regards to the email you sent to our executive team about your BlackBerry Bold 9900 and TELUS/Koodo.

    I would like to first off apologize for this terrible experience and do my best to resolve this for you quickly. We do work on behalf of the executive office and Mr. Heins has asked me to reach out to you.

    I would like the opportunity to discuss this experience with you further, gather some details and provide you with a new unlocked BlackBerry Bold 9900.

    Please let me know the best time of day and number at which to reach you for this discussion. I look forward to hearing from you soon.

    Best Regards,

    Customer Loyalty Specialist

    Research In Motion Limited

    Email: csocustomerloyalty@blackberry.com

    ———————————————————-

    To RIM:

    I know my daughter will be absolutely thrilled that you are going to assist her. She has loved her Blackberry (this is her second one) since she got it. Her mother has had Blackberry phones for years.

    Thanks for all your help as this has been quite a process.

    I have copied Ellen Roseman at the Toronto Star as I reached out to her after all these months of trying to get service through Koodo and Telus to no avail. I wanted to keep her in the loop with respect to RIM stepping up to assist a young customer when no one else would.

    I am sure that you will be in touch with Mr. Heins so please express our sincere thanks to him for his assistance in this regard.

    Most importantly, my daughter is really socially connected with lots of friends and I know she will be telling everyone that RIM helped her.

  12. RB

    Dec 12 2012

    Rogers offers a data roaming calculator which shows what various data roaming charges could be.

    http://your.rogers.com/store/wireless/coverage/roaming_calculator.asp

    Get a Video on Demand 120 minute movie (at $39.93 per minute) and the charge is estimated at $4,791.60.

    As far as I am concerned, it is imperative that I avoid roaming charges for both data and voice as follows:

    My iPhone 4 has DATA ROAMING turned OFF by default. I never turn it on. Even in Canada I have it OFF. No one should turn it on.

    This does not affect data being received and sent while the phone is in my home area.

    The switch has the following statement right under it:
    “Turn off data roaming when traveling to avoid charges when web browsing and using email and other data services.”

    Right above the DATA ROAMING switch, the CELLULAR DATA switch can be turned off as well. Then, the only way to do data is via Wi-fi.

    When I travel outside Canada, I set the phone into AIRPLANE MODE the moment I get on the plane. It stays set that way for the entire trip until I return to Canada.

    This turns off the Cellular Radio, the wi-fi radio, the bluetooth radio.

    I turn off all notifications from “apps” and “location services” to doubly ensure that the phone cannot be found and nothing can be sent to it.

    In effect, once set that way, I am carrying the world’s most expensive iPod/mp3 player.

    If a hotel offers free wi-fi, I turn on the Wi-Fi radio only and use it briefly to receive or send email. When I finish that session, I turn wi-fi OFF again. I will not digress regarding security here.

    It is convenient to have a cellular phone when travelling in case of emergency, flight delays or just to make local calls without incurring high hotel phone charges.

    I purchased a refurbished unlocked GSM Quad band cell phone for $40 a few years ago. In airports, convenience stores and cell phone outlets in the US, UK, and Australia, I have obtained SIM cards for that phone.

    The cards are often free. You pay a set amount for air time usage. Cost is, for example, $15,US, 5,GBP, $10 Australian. Per minute charges are 10 cents, 5p and 10 cents respectively. They provide 100-150 minutes of air time.

    Yes, the time usually expires in 30 days, whether you have used the entire amount or not, but those amounts (even if wasted) are nothing compared to voice charges for roaming.

    SIM cards are widely available at similar prices in many countries.

    On a recent British Airways flight, there were FREE SIM cards with 1 GBP on them in the magazine in the seatback pocket. That’s 20 minutes free at 5p per minute. Could be a life saver if an emergency arose.

    Of course, the cell companies still don’t do a very good job informing people about data roaming charges.

    Nor will they tell you to get an unlocked phone and buy SIM cards as needed to avoid voice roaming charges.

    Obviously, it is not in their monetary interest to do so.

    Unfortunately, without greater government intervention, people need to inform and protect themselves from what amounts to electronic highway robbery.

  13. MS

    Dec 12 2012

    I have an iPhone 4s with Telus and recently went to Northern Michigan on a golf trip for 4 days. Before leaving, I did my best to read up on how to avoid roaming and excessive data charges while in the U.S.

    As a result, to be safe, I added a Telus US Data Pass ($10) and US Voice Pass ($10).

    My current monthly plan includes unlimited text messaging and since I didn’t intend to send out any text messages on the trip, I figured it wasn’t necessary to buy a US Text package.

    While on the trip, I did my best to ensure the phone was set to OFF for Data Roaming and used Wi-Fi available at the hotel.

    Needless to say, I was stunned when I checked my phone bill to find 877 roaming text messages received at a cost of $526.20.

    I don’t even recall receiving such a high volume of messages during that time. I only sent out 8 roaming text messages (which I am not disputing as I know they were all valid).

    I had no idea Telus charged for incoming text messages while in the U.S. (something my previous carrier Rogers didn’t charge for).

    If I would have known this was the case, I would have purchased some sort of U.S. text message pack or blocked incoming text messages from being received.

    I’m a relatively new customer with Telus and I hope they have compassion for me, considering this has never happened before and I did have intentions of trying to avoid excessive roaming charges. as evidenced by purchasing the data and voice packs.

    If I would have known to purchase their U.S. text travel pack for $40, the incoming messages would not have resulted in such a one-time excessive phone bill.

    PLEASE HELP!

    ———————————————————-

    Spoke to an executive client relations rep and they offered to reduce $420 of those charges (or 80 per cent).

    Definitely an eye-opening learning experience. Since I live in a border region in Windsor, Ont., I will definitely be much more prepared in the future when I go to the U.S.

    I’m beginning to think that unlocking my iPhone and purchasing a SIM card in the country that you travel to is the best way to go abroad with your smartphone…..or just leave the darn thing at home!!!!

    Thank you again so much.

  14. Charles in Vancouver

    Dec 12 2012

    Hi Ellen, just a note about locked iPhones that some readers may not be aware of.

    When you buy a carrier-locked iPhone at an Apple store, they don’t actually have stock of different iPhones for each carrier. Instead, they just have non-carrier iPhones that permanently lock to the first carrier on which they are activated.

    This makes it easier to deal with stock, as they can keep (say) 100 iPhones in the back room that aren’t attached to a particular carrier. These are distinct from actual unlocked iPhones that do not ever lock to a carrier.

    Over the various years that iPhones have been available in Canada, the Apple stores have not always sold purely unlocked units in person. Sometimes they have only been available through the online store.

    I am guessing that what happened with GC and DR above was, they walked into an Apple store to buy a full-price iPhone, but what they walked out with was a non-carrier lock-once iPhone – NOT an unlocked iPhone.

    As a result, Apple locked the device to the first carrier they activated it on.

    So this is something consumers should be wary of: If you are going to buy a full price iPhone, make sure Apple is actually giving you a bona fide permanently unlocked device, and not just a non-carrier lock-once device.

  15. GK

    Dec 12 2012

    I just got back from Europe and I had an awesome time with a cheap unlocked Android phone.

    In England,I got unlimited data, 300 minutes and 3,000 texts with a company called three.co.uk.

    Then when I was in France, I got an even cheaper deal with unlimited data from Orange.

    Finally in Italy, I got calling, data and texts for a week’s usage for 9 Euros from a company called Tim.

    I think if you are going overseas. it is worth it to buy an unlocked Android phone.

    You can get an older generation phone unlocked for between $150 and $200 and they work great.

    Way better than finally settling for $750 or $1,000!

  16. MP

    Dec 12 2012

    I just read your article in today’s paper about phone unlocking. So many consumers have no idea how they are manipulated by the carriers into believing that their phone is “disposable” and should be replaced with a new one purchased from them, when a free market of unlocked devices should exist.

    Though the article is finished, you might want to add an update in an upcoming edition. The CRTC is currently working to develop a “wireless code of conduct” that carriers will be “encouraged” to enact.

    It’s a complicated issue, but there is an open call for public input.

    Input from Canadians suggesting that “unlocking of devices be a mandatory requirement” of any code would bring great future value to consumers.

    Adding that the requirement be “free” or of “no charge to the consumer” would improve the value even further.

    Thank you.

  17. PM

    Dec 12 2012

    I’m having a hard time getting anywhere with any Bell representative. I have a written confirmation that the iPhone 4S I ordered was an unlocked “UNLK” as shown in the SKU Description.

    Having just tried to sell the phone as unlocked, I have now realized that the phone tells me that is indeed locked and I was unable to complete the sale.

    I have tried speaking to several representatives of Bell, in stores, online, etc. All I am told is that Bell does not unlock iPhones.

    I need my iPhone to be unlocked ASAP so I can sell it.

    Bell would either have to advise Apple that it should no longer be locked, or they should provide me with an unlock code and instructions at no charge.

    As for the purchase, we discussed obtaining an unlocked phone. I didn’t have an opportunity to test if it was unlocked, but the receipt states it was unlocked.

    I am not certain if there was an extra cost to not lock the phone.

  18. LR again

    Dec 12 2012

    One more thing. There is a related problem with Canadian carriers.

    Someone commented on your article that if you wanted an unlocked phone, you should just not buy the phone subsidized by signing a contract. Rather, you should pay full price for an unlocked phone.

    However, no monthly credits are given (not by Fido anyway and I believe most other carriers) on the advertised price on month-to-month no-contract plans for bringing your own phone.

    Signing a contract is the only thing that will give you a monthly credit.

    My last contract was completed in August. I decided to go on a monthly plan with my iPhone 3GS until the iPhone 5 came out in November and sign the contract then, so that I could get the phone subsidized.

    Fido refused to give me a monthly credit when I went on the month-to-month plan while waiting, even though I had had a monthly credit under the previous 3 year contract.

    But once I signed a new 3-year contract, they were willing to give me a $10/month discount on the plan AND a subsidized iPhone. Go figure.

    I don’t think most people are against contracts. They just don’t want their phones locked if they buy them under subsidy under contract.

    They want to get a discount over the contract price if they bring their own phone (which is only reasonable because the carrier then is not subsidizing your phone).

    Perhaps they also want to have the term reduced to a more reasonable 2 years, as in the US, from 3 years. This more realistically reflects the useful life of a cell phone these days.

    Of course, the customer service of cell phone companies is a whole other story.

    I’ve had to resort to taping my phone calls with Fido. So many times I have had promised credits and adjustments disappear from my account, only to call back to find out that nothing was ever recorded on my file and they don’t know what I am talking about (after spending hours on the phone previously to get charges reversed).

  19. Charles in Vancouver

    Dec 12 2012

    PM: Since you say you ordered an unlocked iPhone, I presume that you mean it came from an Apple store? I am making that assumption because Bell themselves does not sell unlocked iPhones.

    In that case, it’s Apple that made a mistake, and you need to go to an Apple store, and show them your proof that you intended to buy an unlocked iPhone but what they gave you was not what was on your receipt.

    It should be Apple’s responsibility to remedy this.

  20. Rob S.

    Dec 13 2012

    First off, let’s be clear on what these subsidized phones are. You are buying the phone over time. Once you’ve paid it off, it should be yours free and clear – and unlocked automatially without charge.

    The carrier should be able to lock you in until the phone is paid off; otherwise people could walk in, put $100 down on a $700 phone and then disappear. That much I get.

    It’s like financing a car; the bank gets a lien on it until the loan is paid. Perfectly reasonable, particularly with such a portable device as a cellphone.

    However, what seems to happen is that after your contract is up and/or you’ve paid off the phone, you don’t get any reduction in price.

    Nobody seriously believes that the carriers are giving these phones out of the goodness of their hearts. They’re charging you perpetually for these phones, on top of the service fees.

    The changes I would like to see are not onerous;

    1. Force carriers to separate phone purchase payments from service fees, showing it as a separate line item on the bill with the residual payout value listed. That charge stops when the phone is paid in full.

    2. Once the phone is paid, it’s unlocked automatically and without charge. (This could be automated, at virtually no cost to the carrier.)

    3. Allow any customer to bring their own device and register it without locking it.

    None of this would stop the carriers from making a reasonable profit on their sales and services. It would, however, force them to compete on service, instead of essentially holding customers against their will.

  21. Rob S.

    Dec 13 2012

    I’m speechless at some of the things I’m hearing here, particularly that I can buy a phone outright, bring it to a carrier, and they LOCK it to their network, then want to charge me to unlock!!!!

    On what planet does that make sense? It’s flat out extortion!

    Imagine taking your car to a mechanic, then being told that the last mechanic has locked the engine compartment, and you’ll have to go back to him and pay him $75 to unlock it so the second mechanic can work on it. Same thing.

  22. Ellen Roseman

    Dec 13 2012

    To Charles in Vancouver:

    PM sent me his proof of purchase from Bell. It said UNLK about his iPhone 4S, so he assuemd it meant unlocked. I’ll check to see if he bought it at an Apple store.

    Here’s what I’d like to know. Why does Apple stock these non-carrier lock-once devices? Why not sell all the iPhones unlocked in Apple stores, as they are online?

    And why isn’t Apple being up front with customers about what they’re getting? Does it get some kind of payment from the carriers?

  23. Charles in Vancouver

    Dec 13 2012

    “Here’s what I’d like to know. Why does Apple stock these non-carrier lock-once devices? Why not sell all the iPhones unlocked in Apple stores, as they are online?”

    Because Apple also sells subsidized contract iPhones in their own stores. Instead of stocking separate locked units for Bell, Telus, Rogers, Fido, Koodo, Virgin… They have lock-once units that can be sold on any carrier contract.

    If it was a Bell proof of purchase, not Apple, then there is no question: the phone would never have been sold unlocked out of the box by Bell.

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