New rules requiring U.S. carriers to unlock out-of-contract phones now in effect

Posted:
in iPhone edited March 2015
America's top wireless providers can no longer refuse to unlock devices for customers who have paid financing plans in full or completed their contract term under a new set of industry rules -- agreed to over one year ago -- which go into effect today.




As part of the pact, AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, U.S. Cellular, and Verizon, and will notify active customers whose devices are eligible for unlocking. Those who have purchased a used, carrier-locked device can also have those unlocked for a "reasonable fee."

The carriers will respond to all device unlock requests within two business days, though the actual unlocking time may be slightly longer. Military personnel being deployed overseas can have their device unlocked at any time, as long as their account is in good standing, by showing their carrier their deployment papers.

Prepaid users will not be left out in the cold. Those customers can have their devices unlocked "no later than one year after initial activation, consistent with reasonable time, payment or usage requirements."

The big four carriers and U.S. Cellular agreed to the new rules in late 2013 as part of the CTIA Consumer Code for Wireless Service. They pledged to implement at least three of the rules by May of last year, and to be in compliance with all of them by today.

Unlocking policies for AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, U.S. Cellular, and Verizon are now available on their respective websites.
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Comments

  • Reply 1 of 52
    pazuzupazuzu Posts: 1,728member

    Perfect- more power to the consumer. We like this.

  • Reply 2 of 52
    The absurdity of the unlocking policy the carrier has is beyond comprehension. For example, if I am under contract, why does it matter if I have paid the phone completely or not? It is not like I can just unlock my phone and join a different carrier without penalty.
  • Reply 3 of 52

    It is about damn time! Fantastic... I wonder if they are going to unlock my old ones. Anything on the company account has been impossible even though I paid for the phones and they were used more than enough time.

  • Reply 4 of 52

    Just as I suspected... They didn't do a damn thing to fix the business account unlocking. 

  • Reply 5 of 52
    When are the Canadian carriers going to follow suit?
  • Reply 6 of 52
    Quote:


    Those who have purchased a used, carrier-locked device can also have those unlocked for a "reasonable fee." 


    Reasonable probably means MSRP.

  • Reply 7 of 52

    That's awesome.

    Goodbye AT&T and Hello T-Mobile.

  • Reply 8 of 52
    I remember having a family member visit from New York a few years ago and having to lend them an old Nokia to use prepaid as they couldn't get their iPhone unlocked despite the fact it was out of contract. I can't believe it's taken so long for this to be resolved. I'm also shocked that the carrier can charge a fee to get a phone unlocked that was purchased second hand. If the previous owner has completed their contract there shouldn't be a fee involved to unlock the phone.
  • Reply 9 of 52
    fallenjtfallenjt Posts: 4,056member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by Lolliver View Post



    I remember having a family member visit from New York a few years ago and having to lend them an old Nokia to use prepaid as they couldn't get their iPhone unlocked despite the fact it was out of contract. I can't believe it's taken so long for this to be resolved. I'm also shocked that the carrier can charge a fee to get a phone unlocked that was purchased second hand. If the previous owner has completed their contract there shouldn't be a fee involved to unlock the phone.

    Probably not with ATT. I unlocked 5 iPhone total with ATT in the last 2 years: 4, 4S, 2x 5, 5S. Only one of them was out of contract, the rest was still in contract and ATT unlocked them too. My 5S was unlocked in last Oct when it's 11 months into the 2-year contract. Since ATT allowed me to upgrade it to Next plan, I jumped on it and upgrade to iPhone 6. After ATT unlocked my 5S, I sold it in Dec for $350 cash. Hell yeah.

    If for other carriers, I could only unlock my iP4 in Oct 2012, iP4S in Oct 2013, iP5 in Oct 2014 and iP5S in Oct 2015. But, ATT unlocked my iP4, iP4S and 1 iP5 in Dec 2012 even when my iP5 was just 3 months into the 2 year plan...Yup.

    BTW, a lot of people didn't know that 2-year contract from ATT had loophole which people could take advantage of it to have new iPhone upgrade every year as long as they have 2 lines in the family plan (1 feature and 1 smart phone). Just think 1 feature phone added to a family plan cost you only $15/mo and your grandma doesn't need smartphone, right? I've been doing this for years with stagger 2-year contract (1 phone into a contract 1 year after another one). Remember, ATT data plan for smartphone goes with the smartphone, not the line. So, you can get a subsidized iPhone and only pay service of a feature phone IF you no longer have a smartphone for that line. That's all I can tell you. Go figure it out.

  • Reply 10 of 52
    The real question is this: does this unlocking apply to the silly carrier specific locks they put on the antennas? If you're an AT&T customer and unlock you paid off iPhone, today you cannot go to Verizon despite the antennas being in your phone to operate on the network. Why? Because AT&T (and Verizon and Sprint, etc) all can lock the phones to only use the technology useful on their networks. Hence the reason why you still have to pick a carrier even when you buy it from Apple!
  • Reply 11 of 52

    One of the positives of Verizon is they have never locked iPhones. It's great when traveling abroad since you can just swap sim cards. All the carriers should be like Verizon and sell the iPhone already unlocked. 

  • Reply 12 of 52
    What about Virgin Monile?

    And, what's this about "agreeing"? It should be a mandatory, not voluntary.
  • Reply 13 of 52
    This is of primary interest for Sprint and US Cellular since all Verizon 4G devices are inherently unlocked due to its agreement with the FCC over 700Mhz spectrum. AT&T has let you unlock 5 out of contract devices per year for a several years. They will unlock phones you bought on ebay etc within that 5 limit as long as you have an account with them. They also have the policy of unlocking 10 phones if you had an account within the last 18 months I believe even if you ended the contract. TMob have also historically unlocked phones after about 6 months with T-Mob.

    What is of primary interest is whether the companies will unlock phones you DIDN'T by from new when you DON'T have an account with them. That will seriously increase the value of ex-Sprint/US Cellular phones which are currently bricks if you are not with those carriers.

    If third party unlockers have an easier time unlocking phones (like they used to) then we may get back to a time when it only cost $0.99 (99c) to unlock an iPhone rather than the $50-100 people try to get away with now. This will really energize the secondary market in iPhones.
  • Reply 14 of 52
    Quote:

    Originally Posted by Boltsfan17 View Post

     

    One of the positives of Verizon is they have never locked iPhones. It's great when traveling abroad since you can just swap sim cards. All the carriers should be like Verizon and sell the iPhone already unlocked. 




    Verizon only do this because it was part of the terms of them getting the 700Mhz spectrum from the FCC. They would never have done this voluntarily.

  • Reply 15 of 52
    Quote:

    Originally Posted by Capnbob View Post

     



    Verizon only do this because it was part of the terms of them getting the 700Mhz spectrum from the FCC. They would never have done this voluntarily.


    I never knew that. You probably are right they wouldn't have unlocked phones voluntarily. 

  • Reply 16 of 52
    capnbob wrote: »
    This is of primary interest for Sprint and US Cellular since all Verizon 4G devices are inherently unlocked due to its agreement with the FCC over 700Mhz spectrum. AT&T has let you unlock 5 out of contract devices per year for a several years. They will unlock phones you bought on ebay etc within that 5 limit as long as you have an account with them. They also have the policy of unlocking 10 phones if you had an account within the last 18 months I believe even if you ended the contract. TMob have also historically unlocked phones after about 6 months with T-Mob.

    What is of primary interest is whether the companies will unlock phones you DIDN'T by from new when you DON'T have an account with them. That will seriously increase the value of ex-Sprint/US Cellular phones which are currently bricks if you are not with those carriers.

    If third party unlockers have an easier time unlocking phones (like they used to) then we may get back to a time when it only cost $0.99 (99c) to unlock an iPhone rather than the $50-100 people try to get away with now. This will really energize the secondary market in iPhones.

    Article already says they will for a "reasonable" fee.
  • Reply 17 of 52
    fallenjtfallenjt Posts: 4,056member
    Quote:

    Originally Posted by Boltsfan17 View Post

     

    One of the positives of Verizon is they have never locked iPhones. It's great when traveling abroad since you can just swap sim cards. All the carriers should be like Verizon and sell the iPhone already unlocked. 


    Wrong. Verizon didn't lock the GSM radio, but their CDMA. Go and activate your Verizon phone at Sprint store to see if it works. Guess not.

  • Reply 18 of 52
    Quote:

    Originally Posted by Boltsfan17 View Post

     

    I never knew that. You probably are right they wouldn't have unlocked phones voluntarily. 




    The upside for owners is that Verizon iPhones routinely make more on ebay than any other carrier's phone since most savvy buyers know this. Phone has to be 4G to fall within the terms so it doesn't apply to the iPhone 4S or earlier. There are a few other minor/regional carriers who also have the policy to unlock their phones from the start, though many smaller carriers lock their phones and are not bound by this unlocking policy. The things you learn on Ebay...

     

    US Cellular has one line saying that it will unlock non-account holder phones but doesn't specify terms and says it can deny any request it believes is fraudulent. That sounds like a bit of a lottery to get a US cellular phone unlocked if you are not an account holder.

  • Reply 19 of 52
    mpantonempantone Posts: 2,065member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by justbobf View Post



    What about Virgin Mobile?



    Why don't you ask Virgin Mobile themselves? After all, they are the definite authority.

     

    If I recall correctly, Virgin Mobile was acquired by Sprint, so they would be simply treated as another Sprint prepaid brand. Virgin Mobile is probably still important for the ever-shrinking dumb phone market, but likely mostly irrelevant to the smartphone market.

  • Reply 20 of 52
    nasseraenasserae Posts: 3,167member
    Quote:

    Originally Posted by fallenjt View Post

     

    Wrong. Verizon didn't lock the GSM radio, but their CDMA. Go and activate your Verizon phone at Sprint store to see if it works. Guess not.




    My understanding for not being able to move CDMA phones between CDMA carriers is that the ESN is only registered with one carrier.

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