What does it mean when a device is unlocked?

Please note that unlocked devices are not necessarily compatible with all carriers simply because they're unlocked. All devices have limitations on what carriers they're compatible with, and it's crucial to know if the unlocked device you'd like to purchase is compatible with your carrier before you buy it. A seller is not required to accept a return if a buyer purchases a device that doesn't work on their network of choice at no fault of the seller, so be sure to ask your carrier or the seller about compatibility before purchasing a listing if you're unsure!

Generally speaking, "unlocked" devices are devices that are not tied to one specific cellular provider and can be used on any cellular network that the device's hardware is compatible with. A locked device is generally only compatible with a single cellular network. For example, if you purchase a device through AT&T, it's generally only compatible with AT&T's service. This would not be the case with an unlocked device.

Unlocked devices generally fall into two different unlocked categories: factory unlocked and carrier unlocked. Here are the differences:

  • A factory unlocked device is generally purchased directly from a device manufacturer with no direct ties to any single carrier
  • A carrier unlocked device is originally purchased as locked to a specific carrier but is later unlocked for use on other networks

Here on Swappa, the unlocked device categories are reserved for factory unlocked devices only. Any devices that were originally purchased through or locked to a specific carrier should always be listed in the carrier category for that device. If a buyer receives a device that was sold in an unlocked category of Swappa, and it's discovered that the device was originally locked to a specific carrier, the seller would be required to address the situation accordingly.


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