The concept of an unlocked GSM cell phone is nothing new. People import handsets from Asia and Europe all the time so that they can use them on these shores. People have been more than happy to unlock their Apple iPhones so that they could be used with Rogers Wireless or T-Mobile. However, “this is the first time that an American CDMA wireless company has agreed to unlock their hardware.”
This comes about as a result of a recent class-action lawsuit against Sprint-Nextel, so now the CDMA provider has agreed to unlock whatever phones they have in their collection so that you can go activate them with a competing CDMA mobile operator like Verizon Wireless. The curiosity would be whether these other CDMA providers would be willing to let you use a Sprint-branded phone on their network anyways.
It’s certainly a step in the right direction, but it’ll be interesting to see if other CDMA providers follow suit. Probably not.