If you have an AT&T iPhone that you want to get unlocked, you may finally be able to. Those of us who have been AT&T customers know that getting an iPhone unlocked is one of the hardest things to get accomplished. The only option available to us up until recently was jailbreaking the phone, which in and of itself could potentially cause other problems with the software, which Apple would not fix. About nine months to a year ago, AT&T started taking unlock request over the phone, but even that was not a perfect solution. There were no clear criteria for an unlock, and the process seemed more like you pleading your case until either AT&T took pity on you, or you managed talk to somebody high enough in the ladder to get what you needed. Both of these approaches wasted time and energy. Finally, however, AT&T decided to make the process automated, simple, and fair.
Currently, any AT&T iPhone that is out of contract can be unlocked for use with other GSM carriers. All you need to do is fill out this form on their website, and you get two emails: a confirmation of your request, and a confirmation of your unlock. The request confirmation email is pretty much immediate, with the unlock confirmation taking between 5 – 7 business days (I’ve seen it take less, though) due to the high volume of unlock requests they have.
Of course, not every AT&T iPhone is eligible for an unlock. There are certain general criteria that must be followed (taken from AT&T’s website):
- The person requesting the unlock must be a current or former AT&T customer who can provide account/phone numbers.
- The phone must be an AT&T iPhone. In other words, you can’t take a Verizon iPhone to AT&T for unlocking.
- You must be out of contract in order to unlock the phone, and not have any past due, collections, or similar situations with AT&T
- The phone must have not been reported lost or stolen (duh).
Additionally, AT&T limits you to 5 unlocks per year if you’re a current customer, and 5 unlocks per account if you’re a former customer. Some notable exceptions to these rules are the ability to get your phone unlocked if you’re in the military and are currently deployed, or if you bought the AT&T iPhone at full, “no commitment” price.
There are other technological things to keep in mind if you are thinking of unlocking your AT&T iPhone, though. AT&T was the only carrier to offer the iPhone 3GS, so those should be unlocked with no problem. However, the iPhone 4 and iPhone 4S are offered by Verizon and Sprint, so it becomes trickier if you want to unlock your AT&T iPhone for use with them. In a nutshell, unlocking an AT&T iPhone will allow you to use it in any GSM network, so T-Mobile (and other smaller GSM companies in the US) will work. However, since Verizon and Sprint use CDMA networks on their devices, you will not be able to use an AT&T iPhone on their networks (for more information on CDMA vs GSM networks, read this article). With the iPhone 4, there was a GSM version and a CDMA version. The CDMA version did not have a SIM card tray in it, so you knew you could only use it with Verizon and Sprint. The iPhone 4S, however, has both a CDMA and GSM receiver built in, so by logic one could assume that you would be able to use the phone in any network. This is still not the case. IMEI numbers for AT&T iPhones still differ from Verizon and Sprint iPhones. Unlocking an AT&T iPhone still only allows you to use the phone with other GSM networks. For people who travel a lot and don’t want to spend a lot of money on international plans, this is still a very good choice.
All in all, the process of unlocking an AT&T iPhone has become a lot easier than it was before. Having a streamlined process allows the decisions to be made fairly, and doesn’t waste your time. If you meet AT&T’s requirements as well as the technical requirements outlined above, you should have an unlocked iPhone in no time!
For more information on unlocking iPhones, read this article from Apple.com.
Update: With the release of iPhone 5, Apple changed how the unlocking process happens. Full-priced iPhone 5s are automatically unlocked, of course. However, the rules for unlocking contract iPhone 5s are also different:
- Because iPhone 5 now supports 4G LTE, both CDMA and GSM carriers use a SIM card.
- Because of this, you can now buy a Verizon or Sprint iPhone 5 and use it internationally (for 3G), as the iPhone 5 SIM card tray is unlocked.
- You are still limited within the US, of course. AT&T and T-Mobile phones cannot use 4G LTE on Verizon and Sprint networks, and vice-versa.
- If you want to use 4G LTE with your iPhone 5 internationally, keep in mind that different iPhone versions work with different carriers. Please visit Apple’s 4G LTE page for specific information about each iPhone 5.
- Also, Apple has a carrier support page that’s more expansive than the LTE page above, so check that out as well.
If you have any questions about any of this information, please feel free to leave a comment below, or just email me!