AT&T to allow unlocking of iPhones after contract fulfilled

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AT&T (NYSE: T) iPhone users who have met their 2-year contract requirements will be able to get their devices unlocked with the company’s blessing, according to a statement issued to Apple Insider. The new policy, which went into effect April 8, requires that iPhone customers come to an AT&T store or contact AT&T customer support and request that their iPhones be unlocked. AT&T representatives will confirm that the customer is eligible to have their phone unlocked, and then provide instructions.

The actual unlocking process involves backing up and restoring the iPhone using iTunes, and may require reinitializing the SIM card. Once the unlocking takes place, customers will be able to use a SIM card from another carrier in their iPhone. The new AT&T policy conforms to existing practice at AT&T with other phones. A number of press reports indicate that AT&T gave in to pressure from Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL) CEO Tim Cook. In the past, Cook’s office had been handling unlock requests on a case-by-case basis.

The other major GSM carrier in the United States, T-Mobile, is ready for iPhone customers who want to make a change.

“Today we have more than one million unlocked iPhones running on our network,” a T-Mobile spokesperson told FierceMobileIT. “T-Mobile currently offers microSIMs for customers who already have a GSM phone they want to use on the T-Mobile network, including an iPhone. In order to set up an unlocked iPhone on T-Mobile’s network, customers simply need to purchase a microSIM card and select a T-Mobile Value plan that suits their needs.”

The flexibility afforded by having their phones, including iPhones, unlocked can provide a significant savings to companies. It allows companies to take advantage of service that may be more effective locally, and it allows international use with local SIM cards, which can result in significant savings.

T-Mobile notes in its statement that the carrier is already working to make its network more useful to iPhone users. “Beginning this year, we will introduce HSPA+ service in our 1900 MHz PCS spectrum. When we do, our 4G network will be compatible with a broader range of devices, including the iPhone.” T-Mobile has already begun making those changes in some areas of the United States.

In addition to allowing customers who have completed the 2 years of their AT&T contract, AT&T will reportedly allow unlocking of older iPhones owned by customers who have upgraded to new phones, and customers who have paid their early termination fee.

FierceMobileIT made repeated attempts to get statements from AT&T and Apple, but neither company has responded.

For more:
- see the Apple Insider article

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