GringoPost | Ecuador: Using pre-paid cellular service when travelling to USA

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Using pre-paid cellular service when travelling to USA

I decided to post this short article as I have a had a few clients come from time to time asking to have their phone unlocked so they can use it here in Cuenca with one of the Ecuador cell phone companies after having been in the USA.

Unlocking a phone is a relatively straight forward process, this is a service I have been offering for years and after completing the process, the phone is permanently unlocked allowing the user to simply put the new sim chip into the phone and the phone itself will activate and work with the local service here in Cuenca. That same user could then go back to the USA on a trip and use a pre-paid cellular service temporarily while visiting.

All is good and well then, right? Maybe. If using one of the big providers services such as AT&T or T-Mobile from the official store itself, one can typically be assured everything will function without a hitch. However, the problem occurs when using a 2nd tier pre-paid service such as GoPhone by AT&T, Cricket and others. When using those services, all appears normal, the user simply puts the chip in their phone and enjoys a month at a time of pre-paid service while visiting friends, relatives or touring the USA. Then the user returns to Cuenca to find that their phone no longer appears to be unlocked, the cellular service chip from Claro, Movistar or other provider will no longer register or work in their phone.

So, what happened here? Did the phone lock itself? And, can it be unlocked again? The answer is most likely, no, it can not be unlocked and here is why. Services like GoPhone implement an additional layer of security in the form of what is referred to as a "Hard Lock" on the phone. This happens from the moment the user puts the GoPhone or similar pre-paid chip into their phone, at which time additional measures are essentially "downloaded" into the phone, thus locking the phone down to the level of the phone´s hardware itself in a manner by which it cannot be removed. This essentially renders the user´s phone useless on any network other than the GoPhone or the similar pre-paid provider where it was last used.

In summary, when travelling to the USA in the future, please be careful not to risk your phone to this unfortunate surprise... simply do not buy a pre-paid cell phone chip from a 2nd tier provider if you want your phone to work properly when returning to Ecuador. If uncertain about where to get pre-paid service then avoid mall kiosks, cell phone shops or even buying service at a retail store like Best Buy. Instead get your pre-paid service directly from an official AT&T or T-Mobile store to ensure you are getting the right brand of service that will not hard lock your phone. Also be sure not to accept any software or system updates or requests on your phone that prompt you to download anything while travelling and using a pre-paid network. These precautions will help ensure that your phone stays unlocked and continues to function when you return to Ecuador.

Bryan: techguycue@gmail.com 098 738 8993. Call after: 9 AM.

City: Cuenca