Article: Branded phones and unlocking
Cell phones are usually bought from the provider you're going to use. When you go to a store, you're going to buy a Sprint phone, a Fido phone or a Vodafone phone. In reality, the providers have nothing to do with the actual phone creation. They make deals with manufacturers like Nokia, Motorola and Samsung to provide them with phones that are branded for them. A branded phone will usually have the logo of the provider on the phone and the startup screen, but it could also include a customized firmware, some additional applications, some applications removed, a SIM lock, and some crippled features.
The main problem with branded phones is the crippled features. For example, a branded phone will only work on that provider's network. Also, the provider will want you to only use its service for downloads and any other use you may make of the phone. Crippling can be as simple as disabling an IM or web client on the phone since the network doesn't support that feature, but it can also be much more severe such as disabling bluetooth for file transfers between your phone and your computer, to try and force you to use their expensive store for ringtones, games, music and wallpapers. Some phones will still allow you to transfer with a data cable, assuming you have one. Some providers will also allow you to enable some disabled features such as web access if you call and complain.
The other problem is the locking part, also refered to as SIM lock, which prevents you from using the phone with another provider. The solution to this is called unlocking. You can either buy an unbranded phone that is already unlocked, and will work on any network, or you can take a branded phone and unlock it to access disabled features or change provider. Unlocking can be tricky, and you should be aware that it will likely disable any warranty your provider is giving you, and an unlocked phone can be damaged if you don't know what you're doing. Fortunatly there are simple solutions, such as buying an unlocked phone on eBay. There are also companies you can send your phone to that will unlock it for a fee.
To unlock the phone yourself you will need to know the manufacturer and model, and then search on the web for the proper codes to input to unlock it. Be careful however since some models have multiple codes, depending on the firmware version, so you'll need to find that out too. Note that not all phones can be unlocked with a code, and some phones allow you a certain number of attempts before locking you out. You may also need your IMEI number to find the proper code. Some codes will also restore disabled features such as the AppLoader on Motorola phones.
Crippled features is not something we think of when we shop for a new phone, or something we expect when we receive a phone that advertises bluetooth only to find it disabled. The fact is providers make most of their money with fun stuff like ringtones and games, when in fact if you have a data cable or a bluetooth dongle you can transfer your own files to the phone for free. My dream of the perfect smart phone would be a totally unlocked phone, and there are phones out there that come with no disabled features, so it's important to check on that if you want to use the phone to its full potential.