Dear AT&T – Why is a modem locked??

att_quicksilver_modem

Kevin Tofel brought a new 3G modem to my attention today and I got very excited about the possibilities as it supports Tri-band HSDPA (850, 1900 and 2100) which would work in my global travels.

It was impossible to tell from the AT&T site whether the device was locked so I picked up the phone and called it in. After confirming my identify multiple ways to the customer support agent, I was placed on hold while she checked things out. She reported that the modem was able to take additional SIM cards which was promising, but given it took a few tries to explain things to her, I was honestly not very confident with the information. Well, I just checked it out at an AT&T store on my way to the train and was told that in fact the device is locked.

With mail-in rebate the unit is free which is what made it so attractive, but there’s no way I’m paying international data roaming charges regularly. I would love to know why something like a USB modem is locked by ANY carrier. In this case I would potentially be signing up for a 2 year contract which includes a $60/mo plan. Whether I actually use the service or not I’m committed to the contract and they get the money.

Why would I also be required to use their SIM when traveling overseas … and actually how is this thing even locked? This policy just cost AT&T a sale and 2 years of data revenue.

9 comments for “Dear AT&T – Why is a modem locked??

  1. 12/22/2008 at 9:22 pm

    Hi Jonathan, I saw that you had some questions / comments on my original post. Unfortunately, I got tied up until after you answered most of your own questions. I'm surprised that the modem is locked to a carrier, considering all of the frequency bands that it supports. Hmm…. I wonder if that's why the Icera Livanto chipset was used since it's so versatile via firmware updates.

  2. 12/22/2008 at 9:28 pm

    No Worries – I can't believe it's locked. There's no reason for that other than corporate greed

  3. Rich Neville
    12/23/2008 at 9:52 am

    Jon – you have it right, it's corporate greed. The margin on international roaming is usually 60-70%. That's much higher than almost any other product they sell. Further, most networks have agreements with other international operators to deliver a certain amount of traffic to their networks. If AT&T made it easy for you to swap SIMs, everyone would do it and AT&T would not meet their traffic commitment (which could cost millions).

    From a technical perspective, the device looks at the IMSI of the SIM and analyzes the first six digits. The first six digits provide the country code and network code (know as the MCC/MNC). If they match what the device is expecting you are good to go, otherwise, the device won't register. Howard Forum's and the like have unlock solutions for most devices.

  4. 12/23/2008 at 11:18 am

    The contract pricing is certainly attractive … but I'm thinking now I might as well just get an unlocked device. I'd rather not deal with the BS now at all

  5. 12/23/2008 at 8:40 pm

    I've got a Sierra Wireless 3G modem from AT&T and the SIM card is removable.

    On the other hand, it's been four months and I still haven't seen any sign of that rebate.

  6. 12/23/2008 at 8:46 pm

    I would expect the SIM to be removable regardless… I would be curious about what happens with a SIM from another carrier in your modem though. That's the part that's locked and what I need for travel.

  7. 12/24/2008 at 1:40 am

    I've got a Sierra Wireless 3G modem from AT&T and the SIM card is removable.

    On the other hand, it's been four months and I still haven't seen any sign of that rebate.

  8. 12/24/2008 at 1:46 am

    I would expect the SIM to be removable regardless… I would be curious about what happens with a SIM from another carrier in your modem though. That's the part that's locked and what I need for travel.

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