Unlocked Phone Compatibility With Net10

By Thomas McNish

Even though Net10 phones have SIMs, they're incompatible with other GSM phones.
i George Doyle & Ciaran Griffin/Stockbyte/Getty Images

Net10 is a prepaid wireless company that sells phones, along with air time minutes. Unlike contract-based companies such as AT&T, T-Mobile and Verizon, Net10 doesn't own any towers. Instead, the air time is purchased from the larger companies, which Net10 then sells back to the end user in minutes. Because Net10 operates differently than other carriers on the GSM network, its phones can't be used with other service providers.

The GSM Network

The GSM (Global System for Mobile Communications) is used throughout the world, including the United States. Major carriers on the GSM network include AT&T and T-Mobile. The main distinction between the GSM network and other networks (such as CDMA and iDEN networks) is that phones sold on the GSM network are compatible with all GSM service providers. This means that you could use an AT&T phone with T-Mobile service; this is possible because phones sold on the GSM network have small chip cards inside them called SIM cards, which make swapping service providers simple.

SIM Cards

SIM cards are small chip cards that serve two major purposes. The first purpose is to store your phone number, contacts list, text messages and emails. The second is to send communications between your phone and the service provider on which it operates. All phones on the GSM network use SIM cards, making the phones interchangeable with different service providers. Net10 phones also use SIM cards. However, carriers lock most of the phones before you purchase them. In order to use your phone on any carrier other than the one from whom you purchased the phone, you must first unlock your device.


Unlocking is the process that involves removing your carrier's SIM lock. This will allow your phone to be used on different networks, providing that you have a GSM phone with a SIM card in it. Each phone is locked with a unique code that's related to its IMEI (International Mobile Equipment Identity) number. Your carrier may be willing to provide you with an unlock code for free, depending on its policy. If your carrier refuses, however, you can purchase one from a remote unlocking site such as mobile2mobile.net, unlockallcellular.com or unlocking.com. After you receive your unlock code, you can insert a new SIM card into your phone, at which point your phone will request a code. Key in the code you received and your phone will be ready to use on your new network.

Net10 Phones

Net10 phones are essentially "married" to their SIM cards. When you purchase a phone and activate it, the firmware inside the Net10 phone links the phone to the SIM card. Even though you can physically remove the SIM card and insert it into another unlocked non-Net10 phone, the phone won't recognize the SIM card. This is because the SIM has already been linked to the Net10 phone. Even if you get a brand new Net10 SIM card from a new phone and insert it into a different GSM phone, you won't be able to use the phone properly because the Net10 SIM card won't recognize the phone's firmware. You may even be able to make calls, but you won't be able to receive them, and you'll probably be unable to use data features such as Internet browsing and MMS. More likely, the SIM card won't even work at all. The bottom line is that Net10 service can't be used with anything except a Net10 phone. Net10 service is different than standard service providers; therefore, their SIM cards can't be unlocked and swapped like normal GSM service providers.