Here's what to do if you need to unlock your Telstra handset to use with another telco.
If you own a mobile phone (and let's face it, most of us do) then the chances are pretty good that it's not locked to a specific mobile carrier. There was a time when locking phones to a carrier was commonplace, but these days for all phones sold on contract, they're provided unlocked. You've already signed up to pay for a two year contract, so if you chose to go to another carrier with the handset, you're on the hook for costs anyway.
The exception to this rule is if you've purchased a phone for prepaid use, and especially if you purchased it directly from your carrier. In that case, a proportion of its purchase price is generally absorbed by your carrier, on the assumption that it will make up for it in prepaid fees. In that case, the phone is locked down, and if you throw in a competitor telco SIM into it, it will refuse to function properly.
That's when you need to unlock it for use on all networks, which thankfully isn't too tricky an issue. Here's what you need to do to get a phone locked to the Telstra mobile network unlocked:
How to unlock a Telstra prepaid phone in 4 easy steps
- Find your IMEI: The International Mobile Station Equipment Identity (IMEI) is your phone's absolutely unique identifier, and you need it to identify your particular phone to Telstra. The easiest way to find it is to dial *#06# (Asterix - Hash - Zero - Six - Hash) from your phone. You should see a 17 digit code displayed. Write it down.
- Contact Telstra: You can unlock your phone online from Telstra over the phone by dialling 125 8880 and following the vocal prompts to go through the process of unlocking your handset.
- Pay the unlocking fee: Telstra's charging scheme for unlocking prepaid phones varies a little depending on how long you've been using the phone on its network. If you've been using the phone for more than 2 years there's no unlocking fee. For phones in use on Telstra's network for between 6 months and 2 years there's a $25 unlocking fee, and if it's been in use for 6 months, or you've never activated it on the Telstra network, an $80 fee is charged. This can be paid for by credit card or from your main prepaid credit balance, but not your bonus credit.
- Wait up to 72 hours: It can take a little time for Telstra to send the unlocking instructions for your handset. Once that's sent through and applied, you should be good to switch to another carrier network at will.
The process is ever so slightly different for iPhone users if you happen to have purchased an iPhone from Telstra on a prepaid basis.
How to unlock a Telstra prepaid iPhone
- Find your IMEI: Finding the International Mobile Station Equipment Identity (IMEI) on an iPhone is a little easier, because you can locate it simply by heading to Settings>General>About from any iPhone handset.
- Contact Telstra: For iPhone customers, Telstra you can unlock by dialling 125 8880 and specifically requesting an iPhone unlock, or by using Telstra's online iPhone/iPad unlocking page.
- Wait up to 72 hours: As with other handsets, iPhone unlocking won't always be instantaneous. Once Telstra's sent through the relevant instructions, it should then be plain sailing for using any other SIM card in your iPhone.
What do I do if things go wrong?
If you hit a snag, or your phone won't seem to unlock, or it all just seems too hard, one particular benefit to being a Telstra customer is that it does operate a large number of retail outlets. If you're in trouble, head into a Telstra store, and they should be able to smooth out the unlocking process for you.
Unlocking your handset gives you the flexibility to switch carriers, and that's one of the key benefits of a prepaid plan in the first place. It's obviously ideal if you wanted to switch to another carrier network such as Optus or Vodafone, but equally valid for matters such as international roaming.
If you don't mind changing numbers while overseas, you can drop a local provider SIM into an unlocked phone and pay local rates while you travel, but not if your phone is entirely locked down.
The one obvious caveat here is that for any reasonably new prepaid phone that was already quite cheap to begin with, that $80 unlocking fee may not be the best financial step. With many Android handsets now regularly dipping below $100, it may make more sense to simply pick up a new handset, but remember to responsibly recycle or re-gift your unwanted handset if you do.