Unlock your AT&T iPhone now to make the iPhone 5 more affordable

The iPhone 5 is scheduled for announcement on September 12 (or iPhone 6 or just plain iPhone or whatever the next version will be called). Getting your current iPhone unlocked is a great way to boost the value of your current phone before selling it, allowing you to put the money toward the new thinner, larger screened model. The process is free, doesn’t void your warranty, is officially sanctioned, and can boost the resale value of your phone by about $100 (judging by some searches on eBay). They are more valuable because people can use them on different networks like T-Mobile or foreign phone companies. There are, however a few eligibility requirements you’ll need to check.

Sidenote: Unlocking and jailbreaking are different things. Jailbreaking means circumventing Apple’s security, allowing you to install unsanctioned apps and modify existing ones. While perfectly legal it can void your warranty and it potentially opens you to more security and stability issues if you aren’t sure what you’re doing. Unlocking means removing the lock that is placed on your iPhone by your phone company, allowing you to take a phone purchased for one network and using it on another. This is useful for taking your phone to a different network (e.g., an AT&T iPhone on the T-Mobile network) or for using your iPhone in a different country with a pre-paid SIM card.

Requirements:

  • Currently, unlocking an American iPhone can only be done officially with an AT&T iPhone. In other countries you’ll need to check with your provider for their policy. You might be able to get Sprint or Verizon to unlock your iPhone 4S but it’s unlikely as their policy seems to be inconsistant.
  • Your phone must no longer be under contract. Meaning you must have completed your 2-year contract period or you have paid your contract termination fee. Be aware that you are eligible for a phone upgrade before your contract is over; those are two different things, and your contract must be over or you must have gotten your upgrade.
  • Your account must be in good standing.
  • You must have an active SIM card in the phone. If you’re unlocking an unused iPhone you should be able to take your current SIM card and put it in your old phone for this process. If your current phone is an iPhone 4 or a 4S and the old phone you want to unlock is an iPhone 3GS or older, the SIM card will be too small so you’ll need an adapter like this one.

The process: Basically, call AT&T (611 from your cell phone), press 0 for a customer service agent, and ask them to unlock your phone. Be prepared to provide the IMEI number, which you can find in the Settings app > General > About. For a full overview of the process see this article from Time.