It's iPhone upgrade time, again. You may be wondering what to do with your old iPhone 4/4s/5. Before you recycle it, sell or turn it into very expensive coaster, we suggest it may behoove you to unlock it from your carrier first. The iPhone will bring a higher price when you sell it unlocked and also make your friend or family member who receive the iPhone happier. Even though some may consider using an old iPhone a sign of old-iFartness it should suffice for most users. Most carriers require that the iPhone be paid for and that your contract is finished or has been active for 18 months before unlocking the iPhone.
There are many second-party ways to unlock iPhones. However, if you prefer to do things on the up and up,carriers, such as AT&T an T-Mobile let you unlock your iPhone to be used with another carrier. While Verizon and Sprint offer unlocking for certain models with restrictions. Read best deal on unsubsidized $199 iPhone 4 with lowest price contract, about the new iPhone 5c/5s and latest iPhone news.
"It is always best to contact your carrier before ending your contract to unlock any device."
Each model iPhone will support different GSM bands and data bands. Check the exact specifications for the model you own and what bands the model supports. You may be able to use the iPhone on another carrier, put in a prepaid SIM when you travel or give your iPhone to a friend so that s/he can use it.
There is an official Apple page showing what U.S. carriers support unlocking of the iPhones they provide on contracts.
AT&T and T-Mobile are shown to support unlocking. While Sprint and Verizon Wireless show that some models can be unlocked with certain restrictions.
This process to unlock your phone from your carrier should not to be confused with unlocking your iPhone when you turn it on. Or that some carriers a PIN to unlock your SIM when you turn iPhone on.
Apple support materials state that only your carrier can unlock your iPhone and that you have to contact your carrier and request an unlock.
AT&T iPhone and Smartphone Unlocking Rules
AT&T allows iPhone users who have paid for their iPhone or have come to the end of their contract to unlock their iPhones. The Iphone cannot be associated with a current and active term commitment on an AT&T customer account. The contract term must be fulfilled, upgraded under one of AT&T upgrade policies or paid an early termination fee.
Verizon Wireless iPhone Unlocking
The Verizon iPhone 5 is not locked to Verizon Wireless. If you would like to use your Verizon iPhone 5 with another carrier, you will need a new compatible nano-SIM card for the iPhone 5 and of course an account without another carrier. Verizon spokeswoman Brenda Raney confirmed that the iPhone 5 from Verizon Wireless is not locked to the carrier. Be aware however that the Verizon iPhone 5 when connected to the AT&T network will not connect to AT&T's LTE network but its HSPA+ network with slower speeds.
However, the iPhone 4S is locked to Verizon Wireless according to the Verizon support forum, you can unlock the SIM but you have to a Verizon customer for at least 60 days and in good standing. You have to call Verizon support to unlock it for use while travelling.
T-Mobile iPhone Unlocking and Taking Unlocked Phones to T-Mobile
Any GSM iPhone 5 model A1428 will support T-Mobile's LTE network and HSPA+ speeds of up to 21 Mbps. To experience DC-HSDPA up to 42 Mbps on T-Mobile, you need an iPhone 5 GSM model that supports T-Mobile's AWS band (1700/2100)
T-Mobile reports on its website "Only T-Mobile and AT&T iPhones, and Verizon’s & Sprint’s iPhone 5 will work on our network; other iPhones may have limited functionality, including coverage limitations. Capable device required for 4G speeds; capable iPhone may achieve 4G speeds in limited areas."
T-Mobile has a clear policy on how to unlock your SIM from T-Mobile.
As an active or former T-Mobile customer, you may request a SIM unlock code for your device directly from T-Mobile, without charge. In order to qualify to receive the SIM unlock code your device must not be reported as lost, stolen, or blocked and you must u have purchased your device from T-Mobile or an authorized T-Mobile dealer and activated it on T-Mobile service.You have requested no more than 2 SIM unlock codes per line of service in the last 12 months.
The iPhone must be paid for in full, have an account in good standing, been active for at least 40 days, if you are under a service contract, you have made monthly payments for at least 18 consecutive months on your plan, or have paid a migration fee for the device and their are exemption.
However, if you are on a Prepaid plan, you have had more than $50 in total refills on the device. If you are a former customer, your account balance is zero and you did not port out a line associated with the device during the buyer’s remorse period. You haveprovide proof of purchase if T-Mobile is unable to verify purchase.
Sprint Unlocking of iPhones Most Difficult
According to the Apple support forum Sprint will only unlock a CDMA iPhone 5 after 18 months into your contract, making payments on time.
There are reports that Sprint users were able to unlock their iPhone 5 for international use. Other Sprint forum members reported calling Sprint to find out that they can only unlock their iPhone 5 when their contracts are completed.
As you can see, carriers don't particularly like unlocking iPhones because they don't want you to discontinue service. If you wan to unlock your iPhone, it will take time and perseverance.
Some international iPhone 5 buyers have bought Sprint iPhone 5 on eBay then find out that they can't unlock in their countries.
"I also bought an iPhone 5 from an ebay seller and did not realize it was locked to Sprint. I have tried unlock software off the internet from 2 different companies claiming they can unlock and iphone 5 - both couldn't. I have called Sprint twice and they have said unless I live in USA I cannot unlock it through them, and Apple have said they can do nothing."
iPhone 5 owners should be aware that the iPhone 5 uses a nano SIM which is smaller than SIMs in other phones.