Late Friday afternoon (April 6, 2012), word started spreading that AT&T had relented and would allow off-contract iPhones to be unlocked for use on any GSM network beginning on Sunday, April 8.
Though I'm primarily an Android user, there are several IOS devices sitting around my office. Most are jailbroken but only one is unlocked. The others either have incompatible firmware or are old and decrepit.
But one of them is an absolutely pristine 32GB iPhone 3GS.
A couple definitions in case you're not clear:
- Jailbreaking is a form of privilege escalation. Apple imposes a number of restrictions on normal users in the iOS operating system which runs on iPhones, iPads and iPod Touches, the most relevant one being the limitation to only install apps from the Apple App store. A jailbroken phone has "root" access and can do whatever it pleases.
- Unlocking is the removal of a restriction on a phone or other mobile device only to run on a particular mobile network, such as AT&T's or Verizon's.
I wanted that iPhone 3GS unlocked. I have no compelling need. I rarely travel out of the country anymore. If I did, my Androids are unlocked, as is my daughter's iPhone 4S. But the idea of being tied to a single carrier was galling. It had been a burr under my saddle for ages and I wanted it fixed. I knew IMEI unlocks were fairly painless things and had seen a number of college kids returning from study abroad with unlocked phones and AT&T's stance annoyed me. I was obsessed with unlocking the 3GS.
Just want the straightforward instructions on how to unlock your AT&T iPhone? Click here to read them,.
So late on Monday morning, I took a ride to the local AT&T store on Route 22 in Union NJ, where I hit my first hiccup. The store had recently changed location. Though I had gone to the AT&T web site and grabbed the new address, the store was nowhere near where the AT&T web site said it would be, nor was it anywhere near where Google maps said it was. I had figured that neither location was correct but had seen in a recent mailing that it had moved only a few blocks and thought it should be easy to find. It was about midway between the two locations and yes, all those gaudy big orange signs made it easy to spot.
The first salesperson I saw as I entered the store, Michael, walked over, smiling, and asked if he could help me. I pulled out the pristine 3GS, explained that it was off-contract and I wanted it unlocked, had heard the announcements and asked what the process was.
"I heard about that," Michael said. "This is the first one I've had. Let me see if we have a procedure for this yet." Michael asked me to hang onto the phone and ducked into the back room to ask a manager what the process might be.
Enter hiccup No. 2.
In a few minutes, Michael returned, saying "you have to call customer service, we can't do that here."
I was taking notes on my iPad and we chatted about the note taking program I was using, a different one than he liked and the advantages of each. He made sure I had the number for customer service, said I should only have to give them the IMEI number and I should be able to get the unlock without too much fuss.
So it was back to the office to camp on the phone with AT&T's customer service crew. After a bewildering array of options in the customer service phone menu systema bizarre multiple choice system where nothing sounded quite right, but no option could be ruled out because it was obviously wrongI finally managed to get to a pleasant young woman who confirmed the account information, said she could take care of it and asked me if I could hold for a minute or two.
I got to listen to several minutes of AT&T marketing messages, when she came back on the line, saying she was going to transfer me to Sam in technical support.
Sam, too, was quite pleasant. He confirmed the model of the iPhone (3GS) and the IMEI number, said it would take a minute to process and offered to send the instructions on what I needed to do either to the email address on file or to another address of my choosing. We discussed the simple mechanics of what I needed to do and disconnected.
Within seconds, the instructions were in my mailbox.