Why do carriers still sell locked phones?

Imagine this scenario. You buy a tuxedo online from Kohls for an upcoming event. When it arrives you realize that it still has a security tag you cannot break. You call the store to find a way to remove it and they give you the runaround. Thy say they need to contact manufacturer, Croft and Barrow, to get an unlocked code. Please give them 48-hours until they they hear from the manufacturer, and email you. Meanwhile the event you need to attend comes and goes, but the product you paid for is unusable.

OK, hypothetical situation, but that’s what a locked cell phone represents. A crippled product. Companies such as T-Mobile that sell locked phones are blind to the reality that (a) the device, once paid for does not belong to them or the manufacturer anymore. It should be open by default (b) the world is flat and boundaries have blurred. People should not need customer service intervention to replace a SIM card when roaming.

I had the bad luck to travel to Sri Lanka earlier this month with such a crippled phone — a T-Mobile Dash made by HTC– because I had no time to call to check if it was locked or not. I realized my problem when I tried to swap my SIM card. I got online and found a way to chat with a customer service rep who said it can take up to 48 hours to get the phone unlocked.

I told her they had to be kidding. What kind of unconnected world were they operating in? Two days was a sort of a good turnaround, apparently.

She: When we have to email the manufacture it can take up to 14 days to get a response.

Not good enough, I said.

She: I will inform my supervisor of this issue to see if there is anything that we can do however when we have to e-mail the manufacture we just have to wait for there response as that is out of our hands to get a sooner responses.

Sooner, as in two weeks and counting. I am back in the US. Still no unlocked code. I called twice, checked my email and junk-mail folder. Still no code. That’s why there’s such a thing as text messaging, I tell them –to bypass email.

But the bigger question is not how long it takes to solve a problem, or how to communicate with a customer. The real question is: Why on earth do mobile phone companies sell locked-down smart phones?  I can only imagine three reasons:

  1. Forced loyalty. It makes customers feel they have to grovel to get their basic rights.
  2. Easy revenue: Even if 10 percent of customers get trapped in a situation like this and roam, the money to be made is just too good to forfeit.
  3. Clueless. Carriers don’t take trouble to understand just what usage patterns their customers have. They are still trapped into the old marketing mindset of selling ‘packages’ – few sizes fit all. Customers’ social, professional and economic patterns have changed but carriers have never bothered to find out.

It will take legislation for companies this backward to comply with basic customer rights. It will take a lot of disgruntled customers who say bye-bye to them, for the T-Mobiles of this world to wake up.

2 thoughts on “Why do carriers still sell locked phones?

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