Cell phone unlocking News and Answers

Cellfservices Wireless Usage and Roaming Survey – Are we ripping ourselves off?


On May 22, 2009,  Cellfservices took a survey on wireless usage and travel.  The wireless carriers are not to blame since they are doing their job, running a successful business.  But what are we doing to ourselves?  Is this sign true?  Are we ripping ourselves off? Let’s find out…

After some extensive research, approximately 70% of cell phone users in Asia are using unlocked phones.  In Europe, approximately 80% use unlocked mobile devices.  Finally, North America is in last place with a whopping 5% of unlocked cell phone users.  Bloggers, theorists as well as tech gurus think that it’s primarily because wireless phone providers in North America provide massive subsidies on hardware in return for an extension of their contract.  Makes sense doesn’t it?  Another interesting fact: people in Europe and Asia are more willing than North Americans to spend $600-$700+ USD on unlocked mobile devices, while we’re a little more hesitant.  So what’s stopping us from purchasing a $20-$60 unlock code to give us mobile freedom when traveling?

Here are the answers that I’ve heard from some clients, friends and the random end users I meet in coffee shops etc.…. Underneath, I’ve left my own comments.

1.)    There are too many scams on the Internet with things like unlock codes.

  1. There are several scam sites out there.  Why not read a few reviews on certain sites, go to a local cell phone shop or purchase from a reputable company?

2.)    I don’t need an unlocked phone.  I’m already with Rogers and I use a Rogers phone

  1. That’s not the main benefit of unlocking your phone.  The beauty of it is to eliminate all roaming fees – in response I hear, “What? Tell me more!”

3.)    Isn’t it illegal?

  1. If it’s illegal, I guess a lot of us will be going to jail…. In all seriousness, it is NOT illegal to unlock your cellular phone.  In Canada, Bill C-61 – An Act to amend the Copyright Act was introduced on June 12, 2008 (http://www2.parl.gc.ca/HousePublications/Publication.aspx?Docid=3570473&file=4).  In a nutshell, this bill discusses copyright laws and would make ‘unlocking your cell phone’ illegal. Fortunately, it was never passed!  It is also legal in the United States and almost all other countries.  It is best to check your jurisdiction before attempting to unlock a cell phone.

The Survey:

We surveyed 1003 working class professionals to get an understanding of how people use their phones when roaming.  It wasn’t a shocker to see that the majority of North Americans think it’s more important to stay in touch and that roaming fees are not an issue to worry about.  Let’s let the statistics speak for themselves.  We asked 5 multiple choice questions…

1.)    Which wireless carrier do you currently use?

  1. Rogers Wireless or Fido (Canadian GSM)
  2. Koodo or Bell Mobility (Canadian CDMA)
  3. AT&T or T-mobile (USA GSM)
  4. Verizon or Sprint (USA CDMA)

2.)    How often do you travel internationally?

  1. 0 Times/Year
  2. 1-5 Times/Year
  3. 6-10 Times/Year
  4. 10+ Times/Year

3.)    How long is your typical stay when you travel internationally?

  1. 0-3 Days
  2. 4-7 Days
  3. 7-14 Days
  4. 2-4 Weeks
  5. Longer than 1 Month

4.)    What is your primary method of transportation when traveling internationally?

  1. Airplane
  2. Train
  3. Chartered Bus
  4. Car
  5. Boat
  6. Other

5.)    Do you use your cellular phone when traveling?

  1. All the time. It’s more important to stay in touch than paying roaming fees
  2. All the time!  I use prepaid SIM cards.
  3. If I receive a call, I’m not going to ignore it.
  4. Only for emergency calls
  5. Never.  I either use it as an alarm clock or leave it at home.

Here are the percentages we received from our faithful survey participants.


Wireless Carriers:

Out of 1003 people, 51.2% of North Americans are GSM users while 36.9% are CDMA users.  The other 15.5%, we have ignored since all of them do not reside in North America.

# of Times Traveled/Year:

66.7% of people travel 1-5 Times/Year.  While only 5.4% of people travel 10+ Times/Year.  The funny thing we found is that

Average # of Days/Trip:

32.7% of people travel 0-3 Days/, 28% of people travel 4-7Days/Trip, 32.7% travel 7-14 days/trip, 8.9% travel 2-4 Weeks and 3% travel more than 1 month.

Method of Transportation:

This was a dead giveaway.  87.5% of people travel via. Airplane.  Traveling by car is in second with 14.9% of people.

Wireless Usage when Roaming:

51.2% of people believe that it is more important to stay in touch than paying roaming fees, while 41% of people only use it when they have to or never use it.  Only 18.5% of people use prepaid SIM cards.


First, because this is an online survey we would like to note that the majority of people who took this survey are somewhat tech savvy.  We received several surveys from our partner Blackberry Cool and other cellular phone forums we participate in regularly.

From this study, we are able to conclude a few things that may help you realize how much money is truly being ‘wasted’ on roaming fees.  Since the only wireless carriers that are able to use unlocked phones with prepaid SIM cards are GSM carriers, we will narrow our wireless carrier question down to the following.  In our survey, 58.12% are GSM Users and 41.88% are CDMA North American users.  GSM of course dominates North America. Surprisingly enough, 77.5% of GSM users said that it is more important to stay in touch than pay roaming fees.  This means that the majority of tech savvy GSM users do not know the benefits of unlocking their mobile device.  What does that say about our not so “techy” people?

Moving on to our # of times traveled/year and average # of days/trip.  The majority of users travel at least 1-5 times/year.  On average, we will say that the majority of people travel 2.5 times/year.  72.6% of people travel for more than 4 days at a time which could mean HUGE savings with an unlocked phone and prepaid SIM cards.  The fact that more than 50% of people are willing to pay large roaming bills which will range anywhere from $100-$2000+ scares me.

Finally, 87.5% of people travel via. airplane.  The majority of people who travel from a North American country to a country overseas or even within the continent are amongst the richest people in the world.  In fact, if you have spare change in your ‘coin jar’ etc, you are within the top 80% of the wealthiest people in the world.  But why do we use our resources on something like roaming bills?  It’s simple….

We don’t know how to save money when roaming!

It’s either that, or we don’t care about throwing money away.

Let me paint a picture for you.  The following is a chart of North American GSM roaming rates.

Carrier Roaming in USA calling to Canada Roaming in Canada calling to USA Incoming Call In Country calls Outgoing Text Incoming Text
Rogers $1.7/min N/A $1.2/min $0.95/min $0.60 Free
Fido $1.45-$4.00 N/A $1.45-$4.00 $1.45-$4.00 $0.75 Free
AT&T N/A $0.79 $0.79 $0.79 $0.50 Unknown
T-mobile N/A $0.49 $0.49 $0.49 $0.35 $0.20

When I take a look back at my trip to Boston in July of last year, I saved a ton!  I used prepaid SIM cards and did the following over an 8 day period… I am currently on the Rogers network.

240 Minutes Local Time – 20 Minutes Back to Canada – 60 texts sent – 75 texts received – Data for my Blackberry.  I spent less than $120 for that which sounds like a lot at first glance, but take a look at this.

Roaming in USA Calling to Canada: $1.7 x 20 = $34

In Country Calls (even with ignoring incoming calls): $0.95 x 240 = $228

Sent Text Messages: 60 x $0.60 = $36

($298 + $40 + $6.95 (saf) + 0.50 (911 fee)) x 1.13 (Ontario Tax Rate)


In that 8 day period, I saved $270.36.  Now imagine if I happened to be roaming in Europe or in Africa.  The thought of spending that much money on a phone bill appalls me.


It is bias for us to conclude that unlocking your phone is the way to go, but take a moment to think about it. Being in the industry of unlocking GSM phones, we feel that it is our responsibility to inform the public – end users, of the true benefits of the service we provide.

We provide a valuable service that has been around for years, but is still undermined by most North Americans.  Our hope is that this article and survey results have helped at least one person understand the potential in being economically efficient with your wireless usage.


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