KANSAS CITY, MO. — Wireless subscribers of Sprint Nextel Corp. may no longer have to buy a new phone if they switch to a new carrier.
As part of a proposed class-action settlement, the Reston, Va.-based provider, with operational headquarters in Overland Park, Kan., has agreed to provide departing Sprint PCS customers with the code necessary to unlock their phones' software.
That would allow the phones to operate on any network using technology called code division multiple access, or CDMA. Competitors that use such technology include Verizon Wireless and Alltel Corp., although the Sprint handset still would have to meet those networks' technical standards to work.
The codes won't work for Sprint's Nextel-branded phones, which use integrated dispatch enhanced network, or iDEN, technology, and don't allow switching to AT&T Inc. or T-Mobile USA, which use global system for mobile communication, or GSM, technology.
Sprint made the offer as part of the proposed settlement of a California class-action lawsuit, filed last year, accusing the company of anti-competitive practices. The plaintiffs claimed the software "lock" forced customers wanting to switch carriers to have to buy a new phone, throwing up a barrier to competition.
On Oct. 2, an Alameda County Superior Court judge gave the settlement his preliminary approval. A final approval hearing hasn't yet been scheduled, Sprint Nextel spokesman Matt Sullivan said.
"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, Sullivan said.
Sprint will share the unlocking code with all current and former subscribers once their phones are deactivated and their bills are paid, the company said.
It 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 from Aug. 28, 1999, to July 16, 2007.