Canadians are celebrating new updates that make navigating the expensive world of mobile communication a whole lot better.
As of today, cellphone unlocking in Canada is now free, and any new devices must be sold unlocked as well. This is thanks to a revision of the CRTC WIreless Code, a set of rules and regulations that dictates how telecoms control plans and devices in the country. Back in June, the announcement was made to unlock all existing and new phones, a process that typically cost anywhere from $30 to $80 depending on the provider.
Cell phones were typically sold “locked” to one carrier, meaning if a customer wanted to move from, say, Bell to Public Mobile, they had to pay to unlock their phone before making the switch. This was designed to keep customers loyal to their provider—a move many Canadians disliked and wanted rid of. The process has been free in the U.S. for two years, as long as the user asking for an unlock was a customer.
Nation-wide unlocked phones will mean it’s much easier for people to buy third-party phones and use them without a barrier to access. It also means easier access to roaming, as users can just buy a foreign SIM card in another country and pop it into their phone to connect right away.
There are a few other new changes to the wireless code coming into effect as well. There is now a limit on data and roaming charges, meaning the account holder by default is the only one who can consent to data overage and roaming charges beyond established limits. This is capped at $50 in Canada and $100 for international roaming.
There is also a new change to the trial period for cell phone plans. When a customer signs a new plan, they are allowed a 15 day period to test out the service for free to make sure it works for them. During this period, they are allowed to consume up to half of their monthly usage, whether that be for data, texts or call minutes. Disabled persons have access to a 30 day trial period.
It seems as good a time as ever to remind users about existing wireless code rights as well—a customer can opt-out of their plan at any time, without cancellation fees, and all contracts and documents must be provided in plain and clear language.
Canadian phone owners can now contact their provider and ask for an unlock. To do so, a user will need the locked device, the IMEI of the locked device, and a SIM card for a network other than one to which the device is locked. iPhone users will most likely be able to have their devices remotely unlocked (and sometimes without the use of another SIM card), while Android users may have to enter an unlock code.
There isn’t a defined way to unlock phones for many carriers as of yet—it seems a lot of users are simply calling their companies and asking. The providers will not do it on their own, so if anyone with a locked phone needs it to be unlocked, they will have to go through the steps themselves.
In 2016, wireless carriers generated $37.7 million in unlocking fees from 943,000 requests. This may not be a lot in terms of total revenue for the big telecom providers, but locked phones were mostly seen as a barrier to leaving a plan or exploring new options rather than a profit-generating vertical. Read more on the CRTC Wireless Code here.