Unlocking Old iPhones: Should Business Users Bother? - InformationWeek
Mobile // Mobile Devices
09:44 AM

Unlocking Old iPhones: Should Business Users Bother?

Apple and AT&T have finally begun allowing customers to unlock old iPhones. Consider the implications for business users.

On April 6, AT&T revealed that it would allow owners of old, off-contract iPhones to unlock them starting April 8. AT&T has kept old iPhones locked to its network since the original iPhone launched in 2007, so this is a huge change in stance for the carrier. Before April 8, the only way to unlock an iPhone from AT&T's network was to jailbreak it.

AT&T explained, "The only requirements are that a customer's account must be in good standing, their device cannot be associated with a current and active term commitment on an AT&T customer account, and they need to have fulfilled their contract term, upgraded under one of our upgrade policies or paid an early termination fee."

In other words, as long as the iPhone you want to unlock is gathering dust in a drawer somewhere, AT&T will probably unlock it. If you or your business bought an iPhone 4S once it became available in October, you can't unlock it. It's probably still under contract. This policy is more likely to apply to the iPhone 4 (but probably only if you upgraded to the iPhone 4S), iPhone 3GS, iPhone 3G, and the original iPhone (if you still have that old hunk of smartphone history laying about).

The process to get the old iPhones unlocked is fairly simple: Call AT&T or go to an AT&T store, give them the IMEI number, wait for an email from Apple with the necessary code and instructions, follow the stops, and voila, you now have an unlocked iPhone.

What does this do for you, and more importantly, does this do anything for your business?

Nearly every smartphone is locked to the carrier that sells it. Locked devices can only be used on a particular carrier's network, meaning a device you buy from AT&T can't be used on T-Mobile's network and vice versa. However, many phones can also be unlocked. Customers willing to spend a few moments on the phone and (sometimes) pay a fee, could get their devices unlocked. Some carriers require that the user fulfills 60 days of the contract before agreeing to unlock the device, but AT&T has never agreed to unlock the iPhone.

For example, in 2008, I upgraded from the original iPhone to the iPhone 3G. After switching devices, I noticed that my old iPhone couldn't be used with other carriers. Even though I had purchased the device for full price, AT&T and Apple wouldn't unlock it. Basically, the device had been downgraded to an iPod Touch. I was furious. That iPhone was 100% my property. How dare they keep it locked!

Unlocked phones can be used on the networks carriers other than the one that sells it. For the iPhone--especially the older GSM-only models--this means you can take your old iPhone to any carrier (such as T-Mobile USA), buy a SIM card, and enjoy wireless service. In T-Mobile's case, the iPhone doesn't support its 3G network, but can still use T-Mobile's EDGE 2.5G network. In fact, many people do this (after jailbreaking their devices).

Now that AT&T and Apple will officially unlock old iPhones, you no longer have to jailbreak an iPhone to use it on the carrier of your choice.

For business users, this isn't all that relevant. Most business users are probably signed to current contracts and can't unlock their current devices. The chief benefit of having an unlocked phone is so that it can be used on other networks. You've always been able to use the AT&T SIM card from an iPhone in another AT&T device and use AT&T's services. That doesn't change.

The one important factor, however, is security. Jailbreaking iPhones creates security holes that can be breached. (Businesses shouldn't allow employees to jailbreak their devices in the first place.) Now that jailbreaking is no longer required, IT can breath a sigh of relief knowing that at least one avenue has been roped off.

The bottom line here is the following: Old iPhones are now slightly more useful, because they can be used on networks other than AT&T's. Who does this benefit? People who actually have old iPhones on hand. Most business users probably don't. It also means the secondary market for used iPhones just got more exciting, something else that most businesses shouldn't care all that much about.

See the future of business technology at Interop Las Vegas, May 6-10. It's the best place to learn how cloud computing, mobile, video, virtualization, and other key technologies work together to drive business. Register today with priority code CPQCNL07 to get a free Expo Pass or to save 25% on Flex and Conference passes..

We welcome your comments on this topic on our social media channels, or [contact us directly] with questions about the site.
Comment  | 
Print  | 
More Insights
Newest First  |  Oldest First  |  Threaded View
User Rank: Apprentice
4/10/2012 | 4:19:43 AM
re: Unlocking Old iPhones: Should Business Users Bother?
I have an AT&T locked iPhone 4; however I cancelled the contract and paid the early termination fees with account Paid in full & on time. As the Number is no longer with AT&T they are not ready to unlock the IPhone4. So I called Apple but same story they asked me to go to AT&T. To my surprise the guy at Apple was indirectly indicating me to unlock the IPhone unofficially but reluctant to say go ahead and jailbreak it. And then apple wants customer to trust their products & services. If I was honest enough to pay the early termination fees and AT&T is not willing to unlock the phone I believe Apple has to step forward and unlock the phone rather asking me to unlock in unofficially.
User Rank: Strategist
4/9/2012 | 6:36:18 PM
re: Unlocking Old iPhones: Should Business Users Bother?
This may turn out to be bad news for T-Mobile and especially Cole Broadman, who will have an influx of customers complaining about download speeds on his well-branded network. They have a very interesting marketing team there.

It also means that people will be happy to use the phone features of a telephone again, but the inability to watch NBA games and YouTube videos, a wholly-owned platform managed by Google, on a phone who is stuck at 2.5G data speeds may also mean email can be delivered in a timely fashion.

I suppose Ping-Pong text messaging service could be used as a replacement for video instead of watching the NBA game.

Chances are that T-Mobile would have to re-hire all those fired employees and start a customer re-training effort for all those millions of flexpay or prepaid customers with gold rewards sidekick services because they created their own 4G standard, which seems to be on par with LTE speeds.
User Rank: Apprentice
4/9/2012 | 5:06:20 PM
re: Unlocking Old iPhones: Should Business Users Bother?
This article is incorrect on one important issue of security: a jailbroken iPhone is no more vulnerable than a non-jailbroken iPhone (because somebody that wants to compromise a non-jailbroken phone would simply jailbreak it first).

The blame for this state of affairs rests with Apple. In their quest for a closed, controlled ecosystem, Apple has caused their users (who rightly want to be able to do whatever they want with the devices they own) to search much harder for exploits than they ever would if Apple simply provided root access to the device in the first place. Isn't it ludicrous to buy a computer for which the manufacturer refuses to give out the root or admin password?!? This crazy state of affairs with Apple's iPhone is driving regular users to submit crash reports and potential vulnerabilities not to Apple, but directly to jailbreak teams, such as Chronic Dev (in this case, via their crash-reporter tool).

Wake up, Apple!
User Rank: Apprentice
4/9/2012 | 4:40:08 PM
re: Unlocking Old iPhones: Should Business Users Bother?
AT&T offers no international plan for countries like Russia and South Africa. With a locked phone, you can't even use a local SIM card in those countries. So the slightest data usage off wifi is extremely expensive. Walking around Moscow recently for 1 day, barely touching my iPhone, amounted to $16,000 of usage. As soon as the unlocked iPhone was introduced I got one.
User Rank: Apprentice
4/9/2012 | 4:11:07 PM
re: Unlocking Old iPhones: Should Business Users Bother?
In regards to the aspect of businesses not welcoming jailbreaking. I think businesses should welcome jaibreaking. If your enterprise is jailborken iPhones you are free to secure these how you see fit, without having to deal with APPL dictating what you can an cannot put on there. Don't get me wrong, the enterprise agreement you can do with APPL gets you most of the way there. But, if you have the capabilities to develop VPN, MDM, Enterpise Applications. You will have the most secure Enterprise Mobile Device platform.
Register for InformationWeek Newsletters
White Papers
Current Issue
Top IT Trends for 2018
As we enter a new year of technology planning, find out about the hot technologies organizations are using to advance their businesses and where the experts say IT is heading.
Twitter Feed
Sponsored Live Streaming Video
Everything You've Been Told About Mobility Is Wrong
Attend this video symposium with Sean Wisdom, Global Director of Mobility Solutions, and learn about how you can harness powerful new products to mobilize your business potential.
Flash Poll