You can now take your cell phone number from one service to another, but often the carrier you're leaving won't give you the code needed to unlock your phone so its SIM (subscriber identity module) card can be exchanged for your new carrier's. AT&T Wireless spokesman Ritch Blasi said, "We subsidize the phone and want to make our money back."
Transfer of your phone is possible if it uses GSM (Global System for Mobile communications) technology, which is the case for most new phones now sold by AT&T Wireless, Cingular, and T-Mobile.
Turns out several class-action lawsuits have been filed against the cell phone companies to challenge this practice. Few people know that their old phone can be used with their new carrier, so they waste their money on a new phone sold to them by their new carrier, which is not likely to tell them of the usability of their old phone.
Enough users have learned of this issue to support a small industry of websites that can look up your phone's unlocking code for a small fee. All you need to give them is your phone's 15-digit IMEI (international mobile equipment identity) number, a unique identifier stamped into each GSM phone.
David M. Rowell, publisher of a travel-related technology site called TheTravelInsider.Info, offers the service for $5.
Boy, what a fucked-up system: I mean, look at all the acronyms, for one thing. Shouldn't be this hard.