Sprint Nextel wireless subscribers may no longer have to buy new phones if they jump to new companies. As part of a proposed class-action settlement, Sprint agreed to provide departing customers with the code necessary to unlock their phones' software.
That would allow the phones to operate on any network using code division multiple access technology, or CDMA. Competitors using that technology include Verizon and Alltel, although the Sprint handset would still have to meet those networks' technical standards to work. The codes won't work for Sprint's Nextel phones, which use iDEN technology, and don't allow switching to AT&T or T-Mobile, which use "GSM" technology.
Sprint made the offer as part of the proposed settlement of a 2006 California class-action lawsuit accusing it of anticompetitive practices. Plaintiffs claimed the software "lock" forced customers wanting to switch carriers to have to buy a new phone, throwing up a barrier to competition. A similar lawsuit was filed in Palm Beach County, Fla., and is covered by the proposed settlement.
On Oct. 2, an Alameda County Superior Court judge gave the settlement his preliminary approval. A final approval hearing hasn't yet been scheduled, said Sprint Nextel spokesman Matt Sullivan. "We believe this settlement is fair and reasonable," Sullivan said, adding that the company denies wrongdoing and settled the suit "so we can continue to focus on our business." Sprint doesn't expect to pay any financial damages as part of the settlement, other than possible legal fees.
Sprint will share the unlocking code with all current and former subscribers once their phones are deactivated and their bills are paid. The company also will add information about the locking software and how to obtain the unlocking codes in the list of terms and conditions of service given to new customers, and instruct its customer service representatives on how to connect a non-Sprint phone to the Sprint network. The settlement covers customers who bought a Sprint phone between Aug. 28, 1999, and July 16, 2007.
T-Mobile is facing a similar class-action lawsuit in California. Users of the iPhone, which is locked to the AT&T network, filed two separate lawsuits last week against the carrier and Apple Inc., claiming its use restrictions and a software upgrade that disables unlocked iPhones constituted unfair business practices. (info from The Associated Press)