How can you be sure that your iPhone is locked to a carrier? Well, setting aside the fact that all mobile carriers tend to lock their smartphones, at least for a while, it’s as easy as switching the SIM card.
If you insert a SIM card from a new carrier into your iPhone from your current carrier and you can’t use it, then your phone is still locked. Be that as it may, it’s not such a big deal. There are still ways to get around this. And it’s even easier to do it now in a completely legal fashion. Here’s what you need to know.
Why Do Mobile Phone Carriers Lock Phones?
- Why Do Mobile Phone Carriers Lock Phones?
- Can You Switch Between Any Two Carriers?
- Safest Ways to Unlock an iPhone
- What Is an IMEI Number?
- Apple’s Guide on Unlocking iPhones
- IMEI Unlock Providers
- Previously Working Alternatives
- A Bit of Good News
- How to Check If a Carrier Allows Unlocking
- The Benefits of Having an Unlocked Phone
- How Fast Should You Unlock Your iPhone?
In case you haven’t wondered about this before, it’s not all that hard to dissect. It’s purely a lucrative business model. If you buy an iPhone from a specific carrier and they lock you into the network, then you have an incentive to stay on, keep paying your bills, and eventually rack up new charges.
The carrier might also force you into a long-term contract, say a two-year contract, for any new phone you buy. Therefore, you’re unlikely to take advantage of a great deal from one carrier and then quickly abandon the installment plan and switch to a cheaper provider.
Therefore, to make the switch, your current carrier has to unlock your phone to set you free. Hence why this is an essential unlocking eligibility requirement as you’ll see in the paragraphs below.
Verizon gave another reason a while back. According to the carrier, it made the switch from selling unlocked retail phones to customers to selling them locked for an undetermined period to deter on route thefts.
If you think about it, it makes sense. A locked iPhone or any other smartphone, for that matter, is not a particularly attractive target. Unlocked phones, on the other hand, are prime targets.
Can You Switch Between Any Two Carriers?
Unfortunately, no. It will depend on the model of your phone. One thing that few people tend to mention regarding unlocking phones is that it doesn’t always ensure compatibility with other carriers.
The reason is this. Carriers sometimes use different wireless standards. For example, AT&T uses GSM while Sprint uses CDMA. The terminology here is less important than the fact that the technology behind the acronyms is different.
That means that you can’t take a GSM phone to a CDMA network and expect it to work. Luckily, most newer generation iPhones can easily handle the transition between different carriers, as many of them are capable of supporting both GSM and CDMA wireless standards.
However, if you’re the proud, unlucky owner of an iPhone 2G up to iPhone 3GS, your phone will forever be locked to the GSM standard. So, you can switch between say AT&T and T-Mobile, which use the same standard, but you won’t be able to take your newly unlocked iPhone 3GS to Sprint or Verizon.
Another example of questionable compatibility is the iPhone 4. This phone can support either GSM or CDMA, but not both at the same time. Say you’re getting a new one, and you’re not sure if it’s compatible with your carrier.
Check for a micro-SIM slot on the left side of the phone. If it’s there, then your iPhone 4 supports only GSM. If not, then it’s a CDMA phone. The same won’t apply to the iPhone 4S, which is the first one to feature both technologies. That means that it is the first iPhone you can take to any new network.
It’s also worth pointing out that most new phones sold in the US in the past years have both GSM and CDMA compatibility. However, we can’t say the same for most of the world where the preference is GSM networks. So be wary when buying cheap phones from overseas or when traveling with yours.
Safest Ways to Unlock an iPhone
By far, the most reliable way to unlock your iPhone, whether you have an older generation device or a newer model, is to request your carrier to do it. All major mobile carriers such as Verizon, T-Mobile, AT&T, and Sprint offer such services.
However, there are usually some requirements. First of all, it’s best if you fully own your iPhone, meaning that you’ve made all necessary payments to your carrier. Some providers won’t grant your unlock request until you’ve made such payments or until you’ve paid an early termination fee.
Costs will vary depending on your phone, your plan, and your carrier.
What Is an IMEI Number?
A phone’s IMEI number, or International Mobile Equipment Identity, is a unique identifier that mobile networks (carriers) and manufacturers use to identify and verify the legitimacy of mobile phones on a global scale.
Network carriers or any number of third-party services that specialize in this kind of intervention can unlock an iPhone’s IMEI. The purpose? To “unchain” the SIM card and let you switch to any other network carrier.
How to Unlock a Verizon iPhone
There’s some good news when it comes to Verizon. This carrier has stopped permanently locking iPhones to their network since the iPhone 5 came out. Therefore, unless you have a model older than the iPhone 5, chances are you don’t need a carrier to unlock it for you to switch to a new carrier.
Of course, you will have to wait for at least 60 days after purchasing an iPhone with Verizon, before you can request a SIM unlock, as per their unlocking policy.
Here’s how to request an unlock:
- Contact Verizon’s Customer Service.
- Request a SIM unlock.
There’s nothing more to it. But you will have to make sure that you meet the requirements. They include paying your phone in full, putting in a request after the 60 days mark, and whatever else they may ask.
How to Unlock a T-Mobile iPhone
Here are the requirements you have to meet so that you can request and be eligible for an iPhone carrier unlock from T-Mobile.
- First and foremost, you must have a T-Mobile device.
- Your device must not have been previously blocked or reported as stolen or lost.
- Your account should be in good standing with the carrier.
- You haven’t exceeded more than two unlock codes in the previous year.
- You have paid your device in full.
- Be ready to provide proof of purchase and any other information requested, which is at the discretion of the carrier.
After you’re sure that you meet the mentioned criteria, you can reach out to the customer support line and request an unlock code. If AT&T is satisfied with the documentation you provide and everything else, they will send you instructions on how to proceed to unlock your phone.
How to Unlock an AT&T iPhone
Unlocking your phone on AT&T is similar to using T-Mobile’s unlocking services. There are some well-defined requirements you must meet first.
- Ensure your iPhone is an AT&T device.
- Only request an unlock on a phone that no one ever reported stolen, lost, or otherwise associated with fraudulent activity.
- All commitments and installment plans are completed, paid in full, and your account is in good standing.
- You’re not requesting an unlock on a phone on which you’ve used the early upgrade feature, within the last two weeks.
- You’re not requesting the unlocking of a device that has been active for less than 60 days, in the case of a phone bought with a new installment plan or service commitment.
As you can see, these are more or less similar requirements to those of other carriers. It is worth noting that you can put in a request before your device becomes eligible. In that case, AT&T should send you a notification as soon as you can proceed with the unlocking.
Once you’re allowed to unlock your phone, you can do so from any computer or tablet by going to AT&T’s device unlocking center. There you will complete a form, sign off that you meet the requirements, and wait to receive a code.
The entire process shouldn’t take more than two days to complete. Once you receive a final notification, you can then remove the SIM card and insert a new one from your new carrier.
How to Unlock a Sprint iPhone
Unlocking your Sprint iPhone is very easy, provided you meet the requirements for either domestic or international unlocking.
- Your account must be in good standing.
- You have paid your phone in full.
- You’re not trying to unlock a phone that someone previously reported stolen or lost.
- You have been using your phone actively for the past 50 days, for domestic unlocking, or 90 days, for international unlocking.
- You haven’t requested more than one previous unlock on your phone number over the past 12 months.
As to how you unlock your phone, you don’t. Sprint does this for you. All you have to do is check to make sure you meet the carrier’s requirements. Once that’s sorted out on your end, you can then call the Sprint Customer Care or the Sprint Worldwide Care services.
If you are eligible and Sprint doesn’t need any further documentation or information from you, the company will unlock your phone so that you can insert any new carrier SIM card.
Apple’s Guide on Unlocking iPhones
Not all iPhones come locked to a specific carrier. It depends on what deal you found and where you bought your iPhone. That said, Apple suggests two simple methods to unlock your phone, depending on what your situation is.
iPhone with a SIM Card from Another Carrier
- Turn off your iPhone.
- Remove the SIM card.
- Insert a new SIM card from a new carrier.
- Go through the iPhone setup wizard again.
Erasing Your Phone
- First, back up your iPhone.
- Erase your iPhone.
- Restore the phone from the backup.
It’s also worth noting that Apple suggests you contact your carrier first. These two methods may work on devices you bought from third-party vendors, but may not work on all generation iPhones you purchased from a carrier.
IMEI Unlock Providers
An IMEI unlock provider is the natural alternative to a carrier unlock. Some may opt for this because they don’t want to wait the minimum amount of time asked by the mobile carrier, or because their carrier won’t allow unlocking.
But how does an IMEI unlocking service work? Well, it walks a fine line between being legal and illegal. In some cases, mobile network carriers may sell off unlocking codes to some of these service providers, which the providers, in turn, sell to their clients.
In other cases, IMEI unlocking service providers gain access to codes from different carriers either from employees or by accessing the database.
Because of this, and because of how easy it is to unlock your iPhone directly from your carrier, an IMEI unlocking service should be your last resort. There are some risks, including getting outright scammed and not being able to use your phone or requiring a repair.
It’s worth pointing out that if you send an illegally unlocked or bricked iPhone back to Apple for restoration, the chances are that when you get it back, it will still have your primary carrier’s lock.
Previously Working Alternatives
For a long time, software apps like Ultrasn0w have unlocked iPhones by tampering with the Boot Loader Settings. Some were successful, others not so much.
That said, even programs that were successful at some point have died out in recent years. Since the release of iOS 11, Apple did a great job of preventing any tampering on the user end. That’s especially true for services that users could manipulate to unlock the phone’s IMEI.
New unlocking programs may be currently in development or just around the corner. However, it’s essential to understand that using such a program without in-depth technical knowledge of iPhones and iOS could permanently brick your phone. If you mess up badly enough, not even Apple might be able to fix it for you.
A Bit of Good News
Since 2015, all major mobile carriers have started offering unlocking services for all generation iPhones. As it stands, the only two options you have left are talking to your carrier or putting your trust in an IMEI unlocking service.
The good news is that whichever option you go for, or are eligible for, the unlock will be permanent. Furthermore, in the case of IMEI unlocking, neither process will jailbreak your device or void the warranty, as long as you do it correctly.
And, to make things even better, as previously stated, you can now do it on any generation iPhone and OS version, from oldest to newest. So, you’re no longer obligated to switch to a more recent phone so that you can have an easier time landing the carrier you want.
Keep in mind that carriers are not obligated to unlock your iPhone because you want to and because Apple made it possible. Hence, the eligibility conditions may differ significantly from one carrier to another. They will do it, but it doesn’t mean you won’t sometimes have to jump through hoops to get it done.
How to Check If a Carrier Allows Unlocking
Whether you want to check your carrier or another one, you can do so from Apple’s support page. It will allow you to browse through a list of worldwide cell phone carriers and see which unlocking features they offer for their iPhone devices.
You can find the list here, and you can browse it by continent, to avoid getting overwhelmed with information. You should note that this list will also provide you with information based on the model and generation.
Although Apple’s list may not be updated daily, it’s safe to assume that most of the information is up to date. You can use this list to track down other carriers you may not be familiar with, should you want to make a switch later on, but you’re not sure where to.
The Benefits of Having an Unlocked Phone
First of all, owning an unlocked iPhone will allow you to get the best possible deal on your data plan. That’s because you can shop for different carriers. As long as your phone is compatible with their networks, of course.
Secondly, an unlocked phone will give you more freedom if you frequently go overseas. You’ll be able to get a local SIM card almost anywhere you go and not have to pay outrageous phone bills every time you travel.
That’s particularly important for US iPhone users since US carrier costs are considerably higher than in many other parts of the world. Not to mention the added flexibility of being able to make full use of the new dual-SIM support from phones like the iPhone XS and XS Max.
How Fast Should You Unlock Your iPhone?
Assuming you have an older generation iPhone, it’s probably time you take advantage of the new unlocking policy and free your phone. Unless, of course, you’re planning to get an upgrade and use the same number. If that’s the case, making too many requests within a year could get your application denied.
But in any case, now that it is possible, there’s no reason you shouldn’t ask your carrier to unlock the phone as soon as its financially convenient for you. And, of course, as soon as you meet the eligibility requirements for your carrier. Just because you got your phone unlocked, doesn’t mean the mobile carrier will also terminate your account.