Is AT&T or Apple preventing iPhone SIM unlocking?

Is AT&T or Apple preventing iPhone SIM unlocking?

Summary: Now that we are have a 4th generation of iPhone available, there are previous generations that are contract complete. If you travel internationally, is AT&T or Apple preventing you from getting a legitimate SIM unlock code for your old iPhone?

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I had a nice breakfast with my friend Andy Abramson last week and he expressed his frustration with AT&T's lack of support for unlocking his old, contract complete Apple iPhone. Andy is an avid international traveler (you must check out his excellent series on international travel) and generally takes along Nokia phones to use with SIM cards outside the US and wants the ability to travel with his older iPhone as well (he has a new iPhone 4 for US usage). Andy said he contacted Apple about unlocking his iPhone and was told to contact AT&T. He contacted AT&T and they said to talk to Apple about it so he is getting the runaround with no solution in sight. This discussion was interesting to me since I have had success in the past with both AT&T and T-Mobile getting my phones unlocked for foreign travel so I decided to look into this issue a bit more.

Back when the original iPhone was launched in 2007, questions were raised immediately by those people who wanted to take their iPhone outside the US and use foreign SIM cards or international SIM cards to continue working and staying in touch. USA Today put together an article talking about some of the differences between the US wireless industry and the rest of the world. The US is a country of consumers that have come to count on low initial priced subsidized phones that come with at least 2-year contracts and minimum voice and data plan subscriptions and even though a higher initial phone price and flexibility in plans and contracting is cheaper over the long run I do not see many in the US changing their ways. With the different wireless frequencies used by carriers here in the US, it actually makes little sense to worry much about modeling our country after Europe and others since the frequencies themselves lock you into a carrier anyway. Actually, T-Mobile USA has their Even More Plus option that is very much like their parent T-Mobile system in Europe where you have no contract and pay full price for phones.

I have been with T-Mobile for something like nine years now and I travel outside the US 2 or 3 times a year, on average. T-Mobile has been very good about sending me SIM unlock codes for subsidized phones so that I could travel and use an international SIM or foreign SIM when I get to other countries. In general T-Mobile requires something like 90 days of ownership after purchasing a new device or some length of time that you have been with the carrier, but I have never had an issue unlocking devices with them. I have been able to do the same with AT&T phones when I was with them for a couple of years too. Verizon and Sprint use CDMA technology so their phones cannot be used outside the US with a different SIM, unless you happen to purchase one of their devices with a SIM card as a world phone. Given these experiences and policies from both AT&T and T-Mobile you would expect these practices to apply to all phones equally and that is where the problem lies.

AT&T and/or Apple treat the iPhone differently than every other phone in their lineup. It still isn't clear if AT&T or Apple is driving this decision, but as stated clearly on the AT&T site, the "iPhone cannot be unlocked, even if you are out of contract." If you want to use the iPhone outside the US then you need to pay the AT&T international rates and roam on networks in the countries you are visiting. Is AT&T driving this policy so they can capitalize on international roaming fees or is Apple driving this so people buy iPhones in the countries they are visiting?

Given that the iPhone is available around the world, it doesn't make a lot of sense to me that Apple really cares whether the AT&T iPhone can be unlocked or not so I tend towards AT&T being the block in the road here. I suppose if the iPhone eventually does come to T-Mobile we may see if it is the carrier or Apple that is prohibiting SIM unlock of the iPhone. The carrier does have to get the unlock code from the manufacturer, which is why some phones cannot be unlocked, so maybe Apple is indeed not providing these to AT&T.

There are easy methods to both jailbreak and then unlock your iPhone, but many people do not want to perform these "hacking" procedures and simply want a stock iPhone that allows them to pop in whatever SIM card they want. This is NOT an unreasonable expectation since just about every other GSM phone can be unlocked with a simple code or update. The Librarian of Congress recently determined that methods to SIM unlock a device are not prohibited (class 3 in the list), but there is no law that requires AT&T to unlock the iPhone. Even though there is no law requiring it, doesn't it make common sense and promote good customer relations to at least provide a simple and legal unlock method for previous generation iPhones that are past their contract period?

Topics: Apple, Hardware, iPhone, Mobility, Smartphones, AT&T

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19 comments
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  • Grammar Nazi here...

    <i>"so he is getting the runaround with no solution in <b>site</b>."</i> Should be <b>sight</b>. Say it with me, Proof read.
    Snooki_smoosh_smoosh
    • RE: Is AT&T or Apple preventing iPhone SIM unlocking?

      @JM1981
      Indeed. How short cited it was not to proof read!
      putty.master
  • Simple.

    If that is a concern, don't buy the phone. When I finally make the plunge, it will be for a smart phone for virtually world wide travel, using local SIMs. For me, that is a "must have".
    Economister
    • RE: Is AT&T or Apple preventing iPhone SIM unlocking?

      @Economister

      'If you don't like it don't buy it' is really not an acceptable answer, not when the iPhone is pretty much the only GSM phone ever made that cannot be legally unlocked, not even when you have fulfilled the terms of your contract. Basically this means that no matter how long you have had it you never REALLY own the phone. That is simply unacceptable. Especially given how easy it usually is to get the unlock code for any other phone. Basically the policy is that a phone is eligible for unlock 10 months after it's release, provided you are at least 90 days into a contract and have no past due balance. This is an extremely lenient rule, and to be told that you have buy two iPhones, one for domestic use and one for international, is simply unacceptable.
      Doctor Demento
      • RE: Is AT&T or Apple preventing iPhone SIM unlocking?

        @Doctor Demento In France subsidize phones included the iPhones are required to be unlocked after 6 month for free by law. (comsumer push that law) and 100 Eu before the 6 month.
        Once you request you get a text message, log in iTunes and pushes a OS that is unloock and ready you are.
        anzolace
  • Reality called, they said "wake up!"

    "?so I tend towards AT&T being the block in the road here." Really? Ya think?! Of [i]course[/i] it's AT&T, they're the ones who get to rape you on international roaming. Mostly because they [i]can[/i]. Mr. Abramson is a perfect example of why, here's a customer who's bought [b]two[/b] iPhones [i]plus[/i] owns a Nokia for international travel. AT&T loses nothing by not unlocking an iPhone, which is the problem-they in fact have an awful lot to gain by preventing it. So, while I wouldn't normally suggest jailbreaking one's iPhone, I say that if you're going to travel outside the U.S., jailbreaking your iPhone should be the last thing you do before you leave the house.
    matthew_maurice
  • RE: Is AT&T or Apple preventing iPhone SIM unlocking?

    Turn on the way-back machine.....

    This was an Apple decision with the 2G to stifle unlocking and use outside the US.

    As for "matthew_maurice" - read the bloody article.
    As every other ATT phone EXCEPT the iPhone can be unlocked, I seriously doublt this is an ATT only decision.
    You really think Steve-O would allow that decision to be made without his consent? (see my opening statement).
    rhonin
    • RE: Is AT&T or Apple preventing iPhone SIM unlocking?

      @zenwalker I suppose since ATT has an exclusive contract with Apple they can do it, once that contract is finish I suppose Apple can do it for you! We wiil see..
      anzolace
      • RE: Is AT&T or Apple preventing iPhone SIM unlocking?

        @anzolace
        And now it's March, there is no exclusivity with AT&T anymore. I asked AT&T to sim-unlock my phone and they said they can't because of an exclusivity agreement. I responded with, "Verizon now has the iPhone". They responded with, "Yes, they ALSO have an exclusivity agreement."

        What?!?
        chalpin
  • "proof read" = fail

    Proofread -- one word
    davepowell
  • RE: Is AT&T or Apple preventing iPhone SIM unlocking?

    I'm pretty sure this is dictated by Apple in the contract with AT&T. If it was for AT&T revenue to force oversea roaming, then AT&T would have the same policy for the rest of their phones. While I can't comment on all AT&T phones, I have been an AT&T customer for 10 years and they've provided the unlock code to me for all three phones I've had in that time. 2 of them were nokia's and my current one is a samsung. And? They have always done it with a smile (or at least it sounds like they're smiling over the phone). Also, I've never had to wait. I've called them, provided the IEM number or what ever that number is that they have requested, they do something on the computer, and then provide me with a code. Again, they've always done this happily for me. So, I have to believe this is an Apple mandated thing. Also, I've never had dropped call issues like so many of those with the iPhone. I suspect again that the iPhone/Apple is the issue more so than AT&T. Point is, stay away from the apple iPhone and I think you'll be a pretty happy AT&T customer.
    mgrubb9
  • RE: Is AT&T or Apple preventing iPhone SIM unlocking?

    Solving this problem is really simple as long as u are willing to pay more which is what I did since I travel a lot.<br><br>Go to <a href="http://support.apple.com/kb/HT1937" target="_blank" rel="nofollow">http://support.apple.com/kb/HT1937</a> and see which country's iPhone is official unlocked<br>Then find out if you have friend/family living there and ask them to order it the iPhone online or buy it in local store there since Apple only sell it to local people with an valid resident ID.<br>These iPhone can activate easily by register an iTune account, instead of using an valid iPhone service provider's SIM card.

    Screw AT&T, dont get LOCKED UP by them knowing they wont help you no matter what you do.
    judokaso
  • RE: Is AT&T or Apple preventing iPhone SIM unlocking?

    Just get Nokia phone unlocked and don't mess with the iPhone problems at all.
    jkohut
  • Just jailbreak it.

    If your iPhone is contract complete, you don't owe anything more to AT&T other than your monthly data bill/usage and you've paid the full price of the handset. It's yours.<br><br>So just jailbreak it and use it overseas. It's apparently 'legal' now, per a recent ruling, so go right ahead.
    Theseus
    • RE: Is AT&T or Apple preventing iPhone SIM unlocking?

      @Theseus

      This still doesn't work in March 2011 with a 3G iPhone and iOS 4.2.1. The only way to jailbreak it is to change the baseband which has a huge risk if Apple/AT&T ever allow us to unlock in the normal fashion.
      chalpin
  • RE: Is AT&T or Apple preventing iPhone SIM unlocking?

    The 4s (iOS 5) has a jailbreak & unlock solution which is already available out there, for example I found this site: http://blackbox-iphone.com (cheapest I found). there are also all kind of "do it yourself" guides available if you google it.
    alfasin
  • RE: Is AT&T or Apple preventing iPhone SIM unlocking?

    The 4s has a jailbreak & unlock solution which is already available out there, for example I found this site: http://blackbox-iphone.com (cheapest I found). there are also all kind of "do it yourself" guides available if you google it.
    alfasin
  • RE: Is AT&T or Apple preventing iPhone SIM unlocking?

    SHAME ON YOU AT&T!
    AT&T future is not good with the customer frustrations as customers can not unlock their old iphone even after completing the 2 years contract with AT&T.
    Wait and Watch AT&T!
    cheese999
  • RE: Is AT&T or Apple preventing iPhone SIM unlocking?

    In Israel it is illegal to lock SIMs. therefor all phones are SIM free by definition.
    US guys, you need a good lawyer or a group in Facebook. SIM lock out of contract is an abuse !
    techsgin