Apparently, all this buzz about the Apple iPhone has sparked consumer awareness in the United States. People are starting to ask themselves why their phones are locked. This is a good thing; carriers have been locking phones for years, and it boils down to the insertion of a few lines of code in each phone’s software that keeps it from working with someone else. The handset makers and service providers do it intentionally, to make more money at the expense of their consumers.
In other parts of the world, where GSM (Global System for Mobile communications) phones are the norm (we have them here, but some networks use CDMA [Code Division Multiple Access]), people can have accounts with two or three (or even more) different carriers, each with unique numbers (or not), and can switch between them simply by swapping out a small memory card, called a SIM (Subscriber Identity Module). France has even made locked phones illegal. And the new awareness in the U.S. could be successful in finally making people rise up against their oppressors and demand unlocked phones.
The iPhone is by far not the first locked device. Carriers have been teaming up with handset makers to offer exclusive phones for years and years. It is only because of the incredible hype surrounding the iPhone that people are starting to think about the restrictions placed on their phones, and that they shouldn’t have them.
Apple will be selling the iPhone, locked, through one carrier in every country in which they decide to market it. France will be an exception, with a (higher-priced) unlocked version available. I don’t think, personally, that people should have to pay extra for unlocked phones; however, most phones aren’t sold for their actual value. Part of the reason phones are locked is so carriers can offer steep handset discounts; they make more money because the discounts (usually) require a one- or two-year contract with the selling provider. And once your contract expires, chances are you won’t be able to take the phone with you anyway.
Hopefully, this change in consumer thinking will force handset makers and carriers to move to GSM phones and SIM cards. Provided that some networks already do, others don’t, and unlocked phones need GSM to work well. SIM cards could become the equivalent of the multitude of access codes we use every day to get into services like Google, MSN, Yahoo!, etc. Those networks don’t prevent us from using our own computers on competing sites; why should cellphone makers restrict our phones’ use?