Let’s break this question in a way that it is easily understood. First, we talk about the type of mobile phones and later explain how you can track them.
Contract-based and Contract-free Phones Explained
Let’s take an example of Apple iPhone. Any Apple iPhone is either locked or unlocked. Locked iPhones are devices locked to a specific carrier network. In other words, these are contract-based cell phones. Example: Say you are buying iPhone under contract from Vodafone. In this case Vodafone is the carrier network which has locked your iPhone.
Unlocked phones are cell phones that are not locked to a specific carrier network. In other words, these are contract-free cell phones. Contract-free phones are also called subsidized phones.
Contract-based phones are cheaper, but there is a monthly plan you have to subscribe to. Say, for instance, under Verizon carrier you will get an Apple iPhone 5 for $99 (one-time fee) then you have to pay a monthly fee of $40 for 2 years. This is mandatory and failing to pay bills leads to blocking or blacklisting of IMEI — meaning the phone will be useless. To activate such IMEI blacklisted phone you must pay the bills.
Contract-free phones are expensive, but there are no monthly plans or bills to pay. An Apple iPhone 4S that is contract-free costs about $599 in the market.
Tracking Phones The Right Way
Let’s take an Android phone as an example for a contract-based device under T-mobile. As you know, T-mobile uses CDMA network, which means in order to use your Android phone (let’s say it’s a Samsung Galaxy phone) you must pay a monthly fee.
T-mobile, as the network operator, has all the information — from the IMEI number of your phone to the incoming and outgoing details. Most of the CDMA network based phones are contract-based.
On the other hand, we have GSM network based phones. These phones have a SIM card. Here is what you can do:
- Block the phone: In contract-based phones, the network carrier has the power to block the phone. In contract-free phones, the SIM card provider has the power to block the phone. Read more: Can I block my stolen phone without IMEI number?
- Location Tracking: In contract-based phones, you have to talk to the network carrier to find the location of the missing phone. In the case of contract-free phones, the SIM card provider will be able to give you the details of the lost or stolen phone.
- Lock or erase phone details: If you have a smartphone with tracking apps installed, like Apple has dozens of iPhone tracking softwares (including the built-in Find My iPhone), then you can easily erase, lock or even ring the device. In real-time you can find out the location of phone using a Google map.
- File complaint: Regardless of the type of phone you have, it’s always important to lodge a complaint against your stolen or missing phone. If you are using a GSM phone, then you can get work with Police and SIM card provider to find the location of the missing or lost phone.
Finally, it’s important to note that the procedure for tracking, as mentioned in our Mobile Tracking Guide, remains very much the same. It takes effort from your side to track a contract-based or contract-free mobile phone.