Individual smartphone owners have the right to unlock their devices and use them on other carriers’ networks, according to a new law signed into effect by President Barack Obama on Friday, the White House reports. Bill S517 reverses the previous hold on unlocking phones that went into effect in January 2013.

The law is important because it puts the power to unlock a smartphone back into the hands of millions of smartphone owners instead of a handful of wireless carriers. Since unlocking smartphones became illegal last January, carriers like Verizon Wireless, AT&T, Sprint, and T-Mobile had complete control over the devices they sold, in effect forcing users to remain on their service unless they chose to buy a new smartphone on a competing carrier.

There are some inherent limitations. For instance, AT&T and T-Mobile phones do not always work on Verizon Wireless or Sprint networks because of technological differences. T-Mobile recently began selling exclusively unlocked phones, without the industry-standard two-year contract attached, emphasizing it as one of the company’s biggest selling points in advertisements. The company added 1.5 million new subscribers in the second quarter of 2014, CNET reports.

For those currently on two-year contracts or who bought a phone from a carrier, the best bet to getting it unlocked is still directly from that carrier. Most providers do it instantly and for free, assuming the customer’s account is in good standing. However, if they refuse, there are ways in which users can unlock it themselves or go to a third-party service for roughly $10 to $30.

The regulation also empowers smartphone owners to sell their smartphones for more money. Unlocked devices have a significantly higher resale value; a quick eBay search proves that an unlocked iPhone 5s, for example, will sell for $50 to $100 more than a locked model. On gazelle.com, that same model can fetch more unlocked than locked. Certain unlocked phones will work on all carriers, making them even more valuable and translates into more money in your pocket

Have you tried to unlock a smartphone? Did you go through your carrier or a third-party?

Image courtesy of Flickr

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