There are certain smartphones that you use in your life that you think is just the greatest device. It has everything you want, it works great, and, quite frankly, you don’t feel like learning how to use a whole new device. Samsung smartphones can be that kind of phone for a lot of its fans. However, wouldn’t it be great if you could cut ties with your current service provider, but keep your Samsung smartphone?

You see, when you buy a smartphone, chances are good that you’ll be locked to that phone’s carrier for the rest of its days. In fact, you can tell quickly what kind of carrier your phone is by taking the SIM card out and trying it with a different network.

Want the answer? You’ll be sorely disappointed. Usually, you’re locked into whatever carrier your phone belongs to, but there’s the keyword: usually. First, you need to figure out if your phone falls into CDMA or GSM.

What is Carrier Technology?

The first question you need to ask yourself is: what carrier do you have? Do you have Verizon or Sprint? Then your Samsung smartphone falls under CDMA carrier technology. Do you have a AT&T or T-Mobile? Then your Samsung smartphone falls under GSM carrier technology. CDMA and GSM are both examples of what is known as ‘carrier technology.’

Code Division Multiple Access, or also known as ‘CDMA,’ is a type of carrier technology that enacts more restrictions when it comes to choosing a carrier. If your Samsung smartphone is of the CDMA variety, you’re going to have a hard time unlocking your phone and transferring it when it’s ruled over by CDMA.

That contrasts greatly from ‘Global System for Mobile Communications,’ or also known as ‘GSM,’ (it’s a good thing acronyms caught on). GSM smartphones can have their SIM card removed, placed into another compatible smartphone and work just fine.

This should already be painted a picture for you: CDMA adheres to several restrictive rules that GSM does not. Unfortunately, you’re always going to be tied down to a CDMA carrier, whether you like it or not, and if you don’t, well, you’ll need to start considering a whole new phone.

However, the worst part of the restriction is, if you switch to another network carrier that’s also CDMA, there’s a good chance you’ll need a new smartphone anyway. To be fair, as restrictive as CDMA can be, the average person won’t notice the restrictions when they’re using their phones on a daily basis, especially if you just so happen to like the carrier you pay for.

As great as GSM can be, for those that care about it, GSM isn’t without its own restrictions. It starts with your signal. While not a symptom of a GSM carrier, both GSM and CDMA work better in certain locations. It can be a strike against choosing a GSM carrier if the signal isn’t that great. In fact, if CDMA works better in your area, you’ll have no issue choosing CDMA over GSM, even with its, arguably, worse restrictions.

Frequency Bands:

The second problem comes from the frequency bands in which GSM smartphones operate. You’ll have to be conscious of that if or when you switch over, for example, there’s 850, 900, 1800 and 1900, which are the most common you’ll see. And, lastly, you should always double-check that the SIM card you’re buying is going to work–be compatible–with the GSM carrier.

At the end of the day, both carriers have their positives and negatives. CDMA may seem worse when you look at the big picture, but in reality, the restrictions only matter to those that actually care about them. Quite frankly, you can buy a CDMA-based phone and it would never cross your mind. It will work just like any other smartphone and that includes all the gimmicks and apps you enjoy.

This isn’t about beating down CDMA. Both are great for everyday use. Hover, if you’re someone who travels often, you can’t go wrong with a GSM-based smartphone. Any time you visit another country, you can stop at the nearest store, buy a SIM card and completely dodge racking up an insane phone bill.

In short, CDMA is not for individuals that want to be forced into a hallway, a one-way street. GSM is more like an entire building, an entire field to frolic in.

Can you Legally Unlock your Phone?

After that wall of text, you’re probably worried that unlocking your phone might be illegal. After all, the phrase ‘unlocking a phone’ almost sounds sinister in nature, like you’re getting ready to root your Samsung device.

To put your mind at ease, that is, in no way, the case. Unlocking your phone is completely legal. In fact, your carrier can offer the service to you if you so choose because you aren’t actually breaking the phone in some attempt to use it for more than its intended purpose, like you would when you root an Android device.

The Federal Communications Commission, also widely known by its acronym ‘FCC,’ favors the side of the consumer in that context. Thanks to the FCC’s ruling, it is completely legal to have your phone unlocked. However, before you can unlock your phone, there’s a few very important details you need to be aware of.

Yes, you are legally allowed to unlock your phone, but the FCC makes it clear by stating, ‘after you have fulfilled the applicable service contract, completed device installment plan or paid an early termination fee.’ So, once you’ve met those conditions, you’re free to unlock your phone. In other words, that contract you signed–the contract that still has a deadline–it has to be, essentially, honored. Or, alternatively, you can terminate the contract and still get to unlock your phone.

The FCC went a step further by mandated carriers to unlock a phone, at the request of the consumer, if they want their phone unlocked–free of any extra charges. But there is a way to completely bypass fulfilling contracts or other, arguably, arbitrary qualifications: buy a cheap phone, if you need a GSM phone, that is. There’s always a situation in which a GSM carrier or a CDMA carrier is going to be better for the event you’re attending. You may end up in an area where you carrier signal is weak.

So, after all that, it seems you have the green light to unlock your phone, that is, if you met all the qualifications. Here’s the options you have for unlocking your Samsung phone.

Visiting your Service Provider

This is, by far, the best path for you to take, considering it’s the most straightforward. When the FCC ruled that you, as your service provider’s customer, you can have them unlock your phone for free if your phone has fallen within their rules of eligibility. But, to be clear, you have to be an existing customer or former customer of theirs. Chances are, you’ll have to pay a fee if you aren’t a customer.

On the other hand, the FCC also states, ‘Participating providers may not charge existing or former customers additional fees to unlock a device if it is eligible to be unlocked. Providers may charge a fee to unlock eligible devices for non-customers and former customers.’

So, really, former customers are in a bit of a grey zone. It’s unclear on how the service provider is supposed to handle former customers. The best course of action is to contact your service provider and speak with a representative who understands the guidelines and can clear the air for you.

Before you contact your service provider, you’ll need your IMEI number.

Finding your IMEI Number

Finding your IMEI number is fairly simple and it doesn’t matter which Samsung phone you have. It’s pretty universal across many of Samsung’s smartphones.

1. Launch your ‘Phone’ app. You can find it somewhere on one of your Home screens or in your App Drawer where all your currently installed apps are housed.

2. Activate the keypad and punch in ‘*#06#’ without quotations. Your Samsung phone will then immediately present you with your phone’s IMEI and MEID numbers. However, all you need is the IMEI number. Go ahead and copy it down with pen and paper.

3. Afterwards, go ahead and select ‘OK’ when you’re finished.

Finding your IMEI Number on Samsung Galaxy Tablet

The Samsung Galaxy tablet differs from the way you normally would on a Samsung phone. Here’s what you do:

1. Launch the ‘Settings’ app. You can find it somewhere on one of your Home screens or in your App Drawer where all your currently installed apps are housed. Or, alternatively, tap the dashboard or swipe down to reveal your ‘Quick Settings Menu.’

2. In Settings, keep scrolling until you locate ‘Apps.’ Go ahead and select it.

3. Now, keep scrolling again until you find ‘About device.’ Go ahead and select it.

4. Finally, scroll down until you see ‘IMEI number.’ Write it down with pen and paper. If you don’t see an IMEI number, look for ‘Serial Number’ or ‘S/N’ instead. It can vary depending on your version.

Websites Offering Free Unlock Codes

There are dozens of websites that offer free unlock codes if you’re having trouble getting a service provider to unlock your phone for you. However, the websites that advertise the codes are, for the lack of a better word, sketchy. You can find reviews for many of those websites where customers never got their code.

You might be thinking, ‘That isn’t so bad. They didn’t lose any money.’ Unfortunately, it’s not that simple. Many of these ‘free’ websites end up throwing you for a loop by asking for a payment before getting your ‘free’ code. That doesn’t sound free. The same reviews customers posted, stating they didn’t receive codes, many of them also paid. An unlucky victim caught the bait, the sickly sweet smell of ‘free’ and they were left with nothing to show for it.

The same goes for any software you find online. Dozens of them advertise their free program and very few seem like legitimate programs. While the software seems to have a better track record, it’s still steeped in illegitimate advertisement and unsafe websites. Best case scenario: you get an unlock code. Worst case scenario: you get flooded with malware.