Is it possible to unlock my at&t iPhone 5 for free?

The official Apple store web page now lists prices for unlocked iPhones 5 starting at $699! iPhone 5 works with nano-SIM cards supported by most carrier networks throughout the world. This is good news. The bad news is that the price tag of $699 is more than most people can afford so there is an easy way around it – get an iPhone for a much cheaper price with a little “appendage” – a two year carrier contract. You will pay only $199 for a 16Gb phone in this case. The contract is what keeps the price of a new iPhone down – the price is basically spread over two years and the cell phone company will more than recover the costs of the discount offered to you.1*

To prevent you from switching over to a different carrier before you complete your contractual obligations, Apple factory locks your device so it won’t work with any other carrier. Once the contract is over – you will be free to use your iPhone with any – absolutely any provider (let’s hope so). While the advantages of such a pricing plan are obvious – you get your iPhone now and for less. The disadvantages are multiple:

  • You can’t use your iPhone on any other network so, when you travel, the roaming fees will be prohibitive for you to use your iPhone abroad. In the case of an unlocked device you simply swap the SIM-card to a local provider and fly.
  • If you get fed up with your carrier, since most of them do have reputation for overcharging customers – surprise cell phone bills – you won’t be able to switch to a different network.
  • The contracts are not as flexible as pre-paid or pay-as-you-go plans.
  • You get stuck with the current iPhone model not being able to upgrade it early.

Say, in spite of these obvious drawbacks, you still decided to go with a contract and now are stuck with an iPhone locked to the AT&T network. Can you unlock it, and preferably, for free?

Ok, the short answer is you can but it may not be free.

AT&T has published a process through which any iPhone owner can unlock the device.2 To quote from the AT&T official website:

AT&T will unlock iPhone if all contract obligations, including any term commitment, associated with the device to be unlocked have been fully satisfied.
The above statement basically implies that you should complete your contract or terminate it (and pay the early termination fee – obviously) in order to have your iPhone unlocked by the mobile provider. Well, of course, you may want to tamper with your iPhone and try to “jailbreak” it. But before you embark on this path, you should know that there is an easier and 100% effective solution.
You see, while AT&T clearly states that they won’t grant any unlocks to incomplete contracts, they have a list of exceptions and only they know every exception on that list. For example, they will unlock an iPhone for to-be deployed military personnel. Another exception is to grant an unlock to a “no commitment” phone. And the list actually goes on and on. Customer service associates at AT&T are certainly informed of the situations in which they can grant early unlocks. There are many legit reasons for which they will be glad to help you get your device unlocked. If you are about to go abroad for some time – they will usually grant early contract termination with a nominal fee and automatic unlocking of your phone.




1 When carrier sells you a smartphone at a heavy discount, its quarterly EBITDA service margin (the indicator of profitability) may drop because the carrier actually subsidizes your purchase by knocking down the price by several hundred dollars. iPhone 5 is more expensive than any previous iPhone model which may further erode the EBTIDA margin. Oh, don’t worry, carriers make their money back and then some… Most carriers try to counteract the drop by introducing new higher fees, longer contracts, etc. AT&T so far sold more iPhones 5 than Sprint and Verizon.

2 An official AT&T article about unlocking iPhone can be found here.

Posted on February 3, 2013 at 5:45 pm by admin · Permalink
In: Official iPhone Unlock