A new rule has now come into force in the United States, which makes third party unlocking of network locked smartphones illegal. This comes into effect under concerns of national security. Getting the device unlocked by any agency other than the service provider who sold the device will amount to a violation of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.
The new rule came about after the Librarian of Congress' reassessed the Digital Millenium Copyright Act (DMCA), which previously allowed mobile phones to be unlocked by users themselves, or by third parties. The Librarian of Congress’ is in charge of determining who is exempt from the strict “anti-hacking law”. While the rule was finalized in October 2012, users had been given a 90-day buffer allowing customers could purchase and unlock their phones. That period ends this Saturday.
Cellular providers tend to "lock" smartphones, including the popular ones, which can then only be used on their proprietary network bands. This stops people from switching to a rival’s service. This is enforced to ensure contract period subscription revenues from customers, who purchased heavily subsidized phones, like the iPhone, at a much lower cost than the unlocked versions. By unlocking a phone, owners can use their handsets on any network using a similar standard.