(BPT) - Taking your current phone with you when you switch wireless carriers — referred to as “bring your own phone” (BYOP) or “bring your own device” (BYOD) — is an increasingly popular option for those who simply don’t feel the need to buy a new phone. Today’s smartphones are so good, and so powerful, that they really don’t need to be replaced as often as in the past. Plus, it can save you lots of money.
Here are all the things you’ll need to know to bring your own phone to the carrier of your choice, from unlocking your device to checking for compatibility to picking the right plan.
1) Make sure your phone is paid off
When considering bringing your phone to a new carrier, the first thing to make sure of is that you've fully paid for your device. Most carriers allow you to finance your phone via monthly installments, where the phone costs are incorporated into your monthly bill. It’s easy to forget that your bill is composed of both your plan and your phone costs.
Before switching, double-check your account to confirm your phone has been paid off in its entirety. In most cases, you can pay off the remaining balance of your phone in one lump sum, freeing you of any device-related contractual obligations with your current carrier.
2) Check that your phone is unlocked
The next thing to do is make sure that your device is unlocked — meaning it is no longer bound to its original carrier network. Phones aren’t always locked, but some are. The lock is a software code that's put on the phone by the manufacturer per the requirement of the carrier that sells the device. The lock is meant to ensure that the phone can't be used on any other operator's network until a different software code is entered to unlock the device.
If you have a device that is locked, you can get it unlocked from your wireless carrier if you meet certain criteria, like having the device paid in full. If you meet these requirements, having your device unlocked can usually be done simply by making a call to your carrier’s customer service department and requesting it.
3) Checking your phone's carrier compatibility
While most newer smartphones are compatible across networks, some older phones and devices are limited to operating on specific network technologies (CDMA or GSM). Depending on your phone’s age, make and model, you may need to narrow down your desired carrier list based on which ones support your mobile device.
To find out if your current device is compatible with your new carrier, perform an IMEI check. Most carriers have an IMEI checker on their websites, so you can input the number yourself and get your answer in mere seconds. The IMEI is a unique 15-digit ID number for your cell phone. You can find out your phone’s IMEI number by dialing *#06# on your device.
Find a better phone plan
Once you’ve confirmed that your new provider’s network is compatible with your phone, and that your phone is unlocked, switching is simple. You’ll get a SIM card from your new carrier and insert it into the proper slot on your device. The process will vary depending on the type of device you have. SIM cards come in three sizes (Nano, Micro and Standard) and the location of the SIM slot is not uniform, though most are on the side of your phone.
Carriers today make it easy to switch. Consumer Cellular, for instance, provides the SIM card and activation on their nationwide networks for free when you sign up using a compatible GSM phone. In addition, they offer no-contract monthly plans which include talk, text and data.
Love your phone, but not your carrier? These days it’s easy to switch and save money by bringing your own phone along.