Understanding Phone Unlocking

Understanding Phone Unlocking

In mobile repair the term unlock can mean many different things, when I started doing unlocks in 2008 the term unlocking meant that your phone was locked to a specific carrier. These days an unlock could mean you need an IMEI repair or an FRP Google lock removal.  In this article I am going to explain the confusion around unlocks, blacklisting, and IMEI repair. If you’re a technician going through this website for the first time, all of the information you need about currently smartphone training is on the sales page but this article goes much deeper than that with a history lesson and by the time you’re done reading you will understand how it all fits together.

Why do they lock smartphones

Today wireless carriers are not looking out for your wallet, they are looking to stay connected to it. The carriers would like nothing more than to control your data and know everything that you do, This is done through a series of algorithms that are developed by oem developers in order to find out what you like and how they can market those products or services to you. In the wireless industry your habits are worth lots of money and to the companies that advertise through them. That is why they lock your phone. They want to try to make it as hard as possible for you to leave. At a minimum make it inconvenient to leave their services. I happen to think that this is wrong and that possibly our rights are being violated but that’s for a different article. So now the question is “what are they locking on the smartphone?” If I were to send you to Walmart today to purchase a laptop computer you would be able to access the root files of that computer without any resistance that’s not the case when it comes to a smartphone if you want to access the file system you need root or a jailbreak which would be root for an iPhone. The wireless carrier does not want you to have access to those files. When I first started unlocking smartphones this was one of the first services that I provided and it was very popular. The reason it was popular was because with root access to the file system we could uninstall any of the pre-loaded bloatware or applications that the carrier had put on the smartphone, we could also customize that smartphone the way we wanted it with custom ROMs , and of course if we needed to switch to a different carrier we could remove that lock through the hard work of many developers on XDA developers like Chainfire or my friend Josh from mobile tech videos or the countless would be hackers who inadvertently stumbled upon a solution now and then. As Time went on solution after solution was patched by the carriers, or the OEM themselves like Apple Google or Samsung all in an effort to keep you locked in to a two-year contract with enormous fees and a heavy penalty if you decided to jump ship.

SIM Card locked ( Carrier or Network locked )

The first unlock is what we call a carrier lock it can also be called a network or SIM card lock. This is with Android smartphones only and our training here at phonlab can help you learn the skills needed to remove those locks. When it comes to iPhone that lock is in Apples servers at it is called a lock policy.

FRP or Google Locks

The next lock that you hear about a lot and that we commonly repair here is the FRP lock or factory reset protection which google introduced into the android version 5 and above as a part of a security feature that when the phone was reset from recovery not from the settings in the phone. This is an account lock.

iCloud Locked

iCloud is the holy grail for unlocks, and it is impossible to remove. The lock on an iCloud locked iPhone cannot be removed unless you work at Apple. The locks for Apple devices are stored in the cloud so if you somehow manage to get around the iCloud lock as soon as you connect the iPhone to the network or put a SIM card in it, the phone will relock.

The beginning of IMEI repair, Lost, Stolen, Unpaid

 If you remember back around 2013 The wireless carriers had all sorts of phones that you could walk out of the store with without having to pay a dime in fact you could get phones for the entire family for just about nothing. Just like the financial collapse in 2007 when you could buy a house for zero down the exact same thing happened but only this time it was a bobble of profit at T-Mobile, AT&T, Sprint, and Verizon.

The four largest wireless carriers in the US had a problem now because they were bleeding money and it was all because people were defaulting on their payments because they could not afford to pay their bill ( rates back then were pretty high ) or they were being stolen by  thieves, or criminal organizations that were walking out with these phones without paying a dime, and they had no intention of paying them off. The only solution the carriers came up with was to blacklist  or block those IMEI numbers from being used on the network, unfortunately a large part of the cell phone industry is used sales through craigslist, ebay, or even small cell phone shops, and that ended up affecting the used cell phone phone market in a massive way. I can tell you from experience at my own shop. I had customer after customer coming in, almost 3 times a day for months because they purchased a smartphone online and it has been blacklisted because the person who sold it to them either did not pay their bill or flat out sold them a stolen phone and they would disappear after it was sold. How you may ask? Just ask anyone you know if they have purchased a stolen or blacklisted phone. It was that widespread, and most people are embarrassed to admit it, I know I would have been. I had federal agents, police officers, lawyers, and politicians coming in to see me for help. The story usually went like this, the person who sold them the phone looked honest and then when they put their SIM card in it it did not work, and that’s because the person used a phone number they got off of one of the many VOIP apps in Google Play or the App Store, and after the sale, you guessed it, the phone was off or disconnected.

In the beginning It was and I hate to use the word but it was a pandemic the amount of phones that were going blacklist was massive and I am sure at the time algorithms and some data research could’ve easily identified the difference between a device that went blacklist because it was stolen or because the person had defaulted on their account because they were having trouble paying their bills, but the carrier made no difference between the two and had a zero tolerance policy and blacklisted the phones regardless. The Solutions in the beginning we’re just simply changing carriers if it was blacklisted on AT&T just switch it over to T-Mobile but that did not last long. Eventually the carriers got together and decided to create a unified blacklist so that if it went blacklist on one carrier it was blacklisted on all of them. At the same time we were developing solutions to remove those phones from the blacklist by changing the IMEI numbers, and hence the cat and mouse game began with Google adding on the FRP lock or Factory Reset Protection code plug into the security file on the device. So now you not only have to change the IMEI number, you have to bypass the reset protection lock on the phone now too. The carrier was hard at work with Google in support to release security updates to prevent anyone from using the phone if it was not reset properly or you forgot your password, which still happens these days to regular users who did not purchase a stolen device, they actually own it. There were many unsung heroes back then like “RootJunky” from YouTube, and yes, I came up with a solution once or twice but it was all easily killed with the next update, and it still is to this day. Think about that the next time you see a commercial from one of the wireless carriers telling you how much they care about you and your family.

 The IMEI or International Mobile Equipment Identity number is a 15 digit serial number that identifies your phone to the network once your SIM card is active on the device. This generally means GSM networks or Global Systems for mobile, in other words you can use it on any GSM carrier in the world that supports the network bands that the phone does. In this article I am going to explain what’s important to know about your IMEI number and some changes we see on the horizon.

IMEI repairs have been going on since well before smartphones came out, with the first repairs being done on analog handsets, then would be technicians simply using a combination of dial codes to change the IMEI number on the phone. These days IMEI repairs are for Android smartphones only and not iPhones. There are two types of IMEI repairs available. The most common is the manual repair, the second is called a cleaning because its not being changed it is removed from the blacklist at the source. In  2012 Mobile Tech videos in Texas figured out how to changed the IMEI number on Samsung smartphones which led to more research and solutions by mobile repair technicians around the world in order to assist customers who purchased blacklisted smartphones online and their IMEI number was being blocked by the carrier. A lot has happened since those days and choosing the correct vendor to do your repair is more important than ever. IMEI repairs have attracted criminals as well and thieves over the years who were eager to figure out how to change or modify the IMEI number so that they could use or sell that handset.

Now here is a safety tip so please share it, protect your IMEI number and SIM card as if it was your social security number, why you ask? Your smartphone Is more important than your wallet these days, In fact it is your wallet everything that we store on these devices is connected to your identity your pictures your birthdate your Social Security number your financial accounts everything in your life is on your smartphone. That IMEI not only identifies your phone it identifies you so be careful who you allow to access your phone. You can view your IMEI number by dialing *#06# in your phones dialer.

You may be asking yourself is this legal, changing the IMEI number? Yes it is legal to change your IMEI number in the United States but there are people out there advertising the service and since it is not regulated There is no way to know if the service that you were purchasing is in fact legitimate or if the IMEI number has not been used before. When these repairs first came out there were what were called super IMEI numbers and they were publically available for anyone to use and that compromises your security. These days changing an IMEI number is not like the old days, but since the industry is not regulated there’s no way to tell what hackers may or may not be doing to change or obtain an IMEI number. Using a donor device is always a good way to obtain a clean IMEI number.

If you want to learn more about unlocks and how to do them then join us in the Phonlab Smartphone Tech Course.

MJ Nale

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