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This is likely to be because the handset is "locked" to a particular network.
This is something done by network operators to ensure that their handsets aren't sold on, or used on other networks, until the user's contract ends.
When you sign to a contract, you normally get a discounted (subsidised) handset, and the network operator ties you in to a contract for at least a year, so that they make enough money to pay for the cost of the discounted handset.
More on our Phone Locks page There are various ways of "unlocking" a handset that's locked to a network - most of which involve connecting cables to your phone and using unapproved software, or paying money to disreputable sources - but this is not something that the network operators offer, support, or condone. If you've got an old mobile phone handset that you're no longer using...
We reviewed this in Show 32 of our UK Tech podcast. There's also the powerful Power Monkey for extra portable power.
You'll also make some money when you send your old handset back.
For security reasons, it's only the network operator that can legally provide you with a PUK code to unlock your SIM.
For more on PUK codes, and how to get a PUK code for a UK mobile - see our PUK Codes FAQIf you've got a SIM Card for a mobile, and don't know what the phone number is - the easiest way to check, is to use the card to phone a landline phone number, and then from that landline phone, dial 1471.
Let's give you a real-world example: Let's say you're comparing an HTC P3300 on pay-as-you-go, versus on 12 month contact.
For demonstration, we'll use the example of the Vodafone 200 12 month contract, correct at the time of writing: Consider getting two free SIM cards from 3 - Free Skype-to-Skype calls and Windows Live chat, with no top-up!
The phone stores a unique number called a Subscriber Identity number (IMSI).