How to get AT&T to unlock your off-contract iPhone

The best way to approach AT&T is either in-store or using the online customer care chat facility. Telephone support is the worst way.

Yesterday AT&T began to offer customers who have an off-contract iPhone the opportunity to unlock the handset so that it can be used on other carriers. It seems that quite a few of you jumped on the chance to have this done and have reported back to me with your tales of success (and woe).

From what readers who've approached AT&T to get their iPhones unlocked are telling me, the worst way to contact AT&T for an unlock is via phone. Here is seems that most support representative are either unaware of the new unlock procedure, or are just plain unwilling to do it.

'I just called to have my 3G unlocked,' wrote a reader in an email to Hardware 2.0, 'and the tech rep said they have no knowledge of any decision to unlock iPhones. She confirmed I was through to the right department and said I should just keep calling back. She refused to even consider unlocking it.'

So don't waste your time on the phone talking to support. One person did tell me that they were lucky and managed to be transferred to the right person, but he said that 'it took some persuasion' to make it happen.

The best way to approach AT&T is either in-store or using the online customer care chat facility. All AT&T needs is the IMEI (International Mobile Equipment Identity) number of the handset which you can find by going Settings > General > About and then scrolling down until you get to the 15 digit code.

'It was easy,' wrote another reader. 'It took a few minutes.'

Once AT&T has received your details and checked that the contract has indeed come to an end, your information will be passed to Apple and you will receive the unlock code via email within a week (some people are being told a week, others anything ranging from 24 to 72 hours ... your mileage may vary). Some customers claim to have received their email confirmation within minutes, while others are still waiting.

Once you receive email confirmation, the handset then needs to be connected to iTunes and a backup and restore carried out to complete the process.

Note: If your handset is jailbroken then this will remove the jailbreak. If you are running a jailbroken iPhone 4S then you will need to wait until a jailbreak is available for iOS 5.1 is you want to keep the jailbreak.

Unlocking your handset will allow you to take that old iPhone over to a carrier like T-Mobile which offers cheaper plans and no data overage fees (but sadly no unlimited plan). Alternatively, take a look at Straight Talk which also offers some good deals and, depending on your location, may offer you better signal coverage than T-Mobile.

Image credits: ZDNet | AT&T