Is it possible to unlock my 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. While the advantages of such a pricing plan are obvious - you get your iPhone now and for less. The disadvantages are multiple:

Say, in spite of these obvious drawbacks, you still decided to go with a contract and now are stuck with an iPhone 5 locked to the AT&T network. Can you unlock it, and preferably, for free?

Ok, the short answer is you can but not for 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 - we discuss the perils of "jailbreaking" in our next article. 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. So, the whole process in this case boils down to giving them enough evidence that you are leaving the U.S. and for quite some time.

You, as our customer, do not need to bother yourself with all the tactics and strategies we will use to get your iPhone 5 permanently and safely unlocked. All you need to do is trust us just like hundreds of our customers have already done so. Check out the table below for the cost breakdown.

  Purchase Price ETF (Early Termination Fee) Factory Unlocking Fee Total "Unlocked" Device Cost
Get AT&T Locked iPhone 5 $199* $325 $0 $524
Get AT&T Locked iPhone 5 & then
unlock via OfficialiPhoneUnlock
$199 $0 $56 $255
Get Unlocked iPhone 5 $699 $0 $0 $699
*According to the recent Mashable.com article, the true cost of contractual iPhone 5.0 with AT&T amounts to about $1,808 if you take into account all the ensuing fees associated with your device operating on the AT&T network.

From the table above it is clear that the total price of your iPhone 5, if you get it unlocked via our official service, drops to only $255 compared to other alternatives. The trick is - we will take care of the ETF for you via our connections. You will still pay the fee but it will be much lower than the ETF due to a different procedure involved in this case (the fee is already included in the unlocking price). The official iPhone 5 unlock, if you perform it yourself through AT&T website, takes anywhere from 5 to 7 days. We deliver unlocks within 6-24 hours in 99% of cases. The benefits are yours.

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.