While the HTC One can be purchased unlocked directly from HTC (Developer Edition also comes with an unlocked bootloader) but also from other third-party retailers, the subsidized handset models sold by carriers come locked.
However, that doesn’t mean the handset can’t be unlocked and used with different SIM cards if needed, even though you purchase it bundled with a two-year contract from one of the mobile operators that carry it.
Paid vs free Unlocks
While there are paid solutions for unlocking a handset that’s still under contract, there’s a way to have it unlocked free of charge, by getting in touch with your carrier.
The HTC One is available from tree U.S. mobile operators including AT&T, T-Mobile and Sprint, with each carrier having sort-of a unique offer. AT&T is the exclusive carrier of the 64GB HTC One model, T-Mobile sells it contract-free for just $99 upfront followed by 24 installments each worth $20/month and Sprint will offer you its unlimited data plans whether you’re a new customer or an existing one. Both Sprint and AT&T could offer you $100 or more off the handset’s price in certain conditions: new customers get it with Sprint, while AT&T gives you at least $100 off via its new handset trade-in program.
The carriers may not want you to unlock your handset, but there are several instances in which you may need to do it, especially if you travel a lot to different markets but also if you want to sell the handset. Having the HTC One SIM-unlocked straight from the mobile operator is a better idea than scouting the web for unlocking services, especially considering that unlocking handsets is not exactly legal anymore, at least not when such unlocks are not performed directly with the carrier.
We’ll never encourage you to unlock any devices, and it’s up to you to take that decision, but if you want to do it, we’d definitely advise you to do it through your operator rather than any other untrusted service, even though that’s not a hassle-free procedure in some cases.
What about that CDMA model?
Before you ask about Sprint’s HTC One (a handset that runs on a CDMA network), we’ll already answer the question: yes, Sprint does come with GSM/EDGE and HSPA support, which means it would work on AT&T and T-Mobile networks but also in international GSM markets. The handset comes with quad-band GSM/EDGE capabilities (850/900/1800/1900MHz) and dual-band HSPA 14.4Mbps (1900/2100MHz) so it would offer 3G support on AT&T and T-Mobile, but not LTE.
Therefore, yes, the Sprint HTC One can be unlocked as well in order to use it with other GSM networks – in fact it needs to be unlocked, as it’s not unlocked out-of-the-box. What you won’t be able to do with an unlocked Sprint HTC One model is to use it with Verizon, that other big CDMA U.S. carrier, but one that doesn’t stock the HTC One.
As for LTE connectivity in international markets, you’d have to make sure the carrier you plan to use the HTC One with supports the same LTE band as the U.S. HTC One model you purchase, be it a Sprint, AT&T, or T-Mobile device.
So how about those pesky LTE bands?
In case you absolutely want to use LTE on an unlocked HTC One in the U.S., you should know that Sprint’s model only works on the 1900MHz LTE band (Band 25), while AT&T’s and T-Mobile’s models will work on the 700MHz (Band 17) and 1700MHz (Band 4).
That should also help you when it comes to traveling overseas, where other mobile operators will operate their own LTE bands, which means that an unlocked HTC One may or may not work on 4G and will have to be used on 3G for data with local SIMs (when Wi-Fi is not in reach).
Will carriers comply?
That said, you should know that each carrier has its own practices for unlocking a handset, HTC One included. HTC Source helps us with unlock policies for the three U.S. carriers that have the handset in stock:
- AT&T: account has been active and is in good standing for at least sixty days; phone is paid off or service commitment has been fulfilled.
- T-Mobile: phone has been paid off.
- Sprint: account has been active and is in good standing for at least 90 days.
Depending on the carrier you chose to buy the HTC One from, you’ll have an easier, or harder time unlocking it, and in some of the cases mentioned above, you may have to shell additional dollars for the handset, to pay it in full before obtaining the unlock.
Performing the actual unlock
Once any of the criteria mentioned above is met, what you have to do is call your operator and ask for a SIM unlock. Make sure you have your IMEI number handy (information available in the About Phone Settings section), as it will be required for the unlock to be performed. Once the request has been made with customer support, you’ll have to wait 1 to 3 days for the unlocked code to be emailed to you.
At that point, turn off the handset, remove your microSIM and replace it with one from a different provider (make sure it’s also a microSIM card or else it won’t fit) and turn the device back on. Once the phone reboots, you’ll be prompted to enter the SIM unlock code you have received by email, after which the handset will be unlocked and usable on any GSM network in the world.
If you’re yet to buy the handset, make sure you check out our detailed HTC One coverage including a full review, a drop test against the iPhone 5 and a comparison to its most important rival, the Galaxy S4 (see the three videos included above for the short versions).
Do you plan to unlock your HTC One?