Saturday, October 12, 2013

How to unlock your ATT iPhone after you upgrade

When you upgrade your iPhone you can get the old one unlocked. You have to wait two weeks, but then it's pretty a straightforward process of filling out forms online and doing stuff with iTunes.

So from the day you activate a new phone, say Friday afternoon, you have to wait two weeks. Friday morning two weeks after the new phone activation you can click the link below and fill out a form to request ATT unlock your old phone. Then the day after that you can restore your old phone and it's unlocked.

Unlocking means you can put different Subscriber Identity Module (SIM) cards in your phone, like you can use T-Mobile for less money and slower data speeds instead of ATT, or you can go to Europe and get a local carrier to sell you a month of minutes and a SIM card to put in your phone. This only works for ATT phones because they have the same kind of radio they use in Europe. It's called the Global System for Mobile Communications (GSM). It was originally called Groupe Sp├ęcial Mobile when they made it up in the '80s, but they changed it when more carriers adopted it. GSM is a radio with a digital modulation scheme based on Time Division Multiple Access (TDMA). Verizon uses a radio with Code Division Multiple Access (CDMA). It's like the difference in getting your home internet from the phone company with Digital Subscriber Line (DSL) over twisted pair or from the cable company over a coaxial cable. To somebody non-technical they can't tell the difference because they see the same web pages on their iPad either way. But if they want to change from cable to DSL they can't use the cable modem anymore and have to buy a DSL modem instead. There are also technical differences in the way the bandwidth is shared for cable versus DSL, just like GSM and CDMA are dissimilar. But the differences in the pricing, availability and customer service tends to completely outweigh the technology when it comes to deciding which to use. It's a metaphor for my life.

Anyway, back to unlocking. Having an unlocked phone makes people who don't even need it feel extra cool, like having $500 speaker wires. I have no problem catering to their whims. I shall unlock my iPhone for them.

Clearly I don't need anything an unlocked phone offers over a contractually locked one. I use my iPhone within site of the ATT tower at the end of my driveway 98% of the time, and my wifi covers about 5 acres. Yet I keep renewing my 2 year contract every time I get a chance to have an upgraded camera. If you ignore the extra $20 a month I pay to be on contract it's like a free camera every 18 months.

So the reason I'm unlocking my old iPhone is to sell it and completely offset the $199 I just paid for the new 5S.

ATT website detailing eligibility to unlock your phone: Unlock your ATT device

STEP 1: Start the forms to unlock your phone: Customer Device Unlock

You need to click the box saying you read it then click "Agree" to get the following form to come up.


This is easy except for the IMEI number (International Mobile Station Equipment Identity). That's the special number that identifies individual phones. It should let a carrier block use of a phone for life if it gets stolen. Unfortunately carriers don't actually use that feature. Remote wiping your lost or stolen phone with iTunes will remove your personal data and make it unusable though. (details on iLounge.) Anyway, back to unlocking your iPhone.

Your phone number identifies your ATT account. Don't freak out that it will identify your new phone. It's all cool. The form wants the number you just transferred to your new phone.

There are two ways to find your IMEI number. If you aren't using your usual computer where you sync with iTunes, then find it on your phone. Go to the Settings app, then General, then About. Scroll down until you find it. Type the 15 digit number into a note so you can copy and paste it. Or put it straight in the form then take a screen shot of your completed form for future reference before you hit Submit. You may need the IMEI number again to check the status of your request later.

Alternately plug the phone in with the USB cable to your computer and look at the summary tab in iTunes. There's a line next to the picture of the phone for phone number. If you click it it changes to IMEI and again ICCID. (Who knew you could click a number and it would change to another number? This opens up a whole new world of things I can try.)

When you put in your IMEI number right in the ATT form it should pop up with an extra line identifying what kind of phone you have. This means you put it in correctly.

I left ATT Account Passcode blank and it worked fine. It will whine if you don't put in your social security number though.

If you do something wrong you'll get an error box and your browser won't go back. Click the above link again and start over. This is why I recommend taking a screen shot of the completed form before you hit Submit, just in case.


When you get everything copacetic and hit Submit they'll give you a confirmation window with a request number. You don't have to take a screen shot of that as they'll email you two emails in just a second. You can copy and paste the number later from the email if you want to check the status.

If you don't wait the whole 14 days you'll get two emails in quick succession, one saying your request was submitted and another one telling you it was summarily rejected. I tried it. The morning of the 14th day is fine though.

STEP 2: Get your confirmation email and wait 24 hours more.
Request number: XXXXXXX
Thank you for contacting ATT Customer Care about unlocking your ATT Mobile device.
We have reviewed your request and confirmed that the device may be unlocked.
Please allow 24 hours upon receipt of this notification to complete the unlock process.
To complete the unlock, simply
1. Open iTunes on your Mac or PC and verify that you have Internet connectivity.
2. Ensure a SIM card is inserted into your iPhone.
3. Connect your iPhone using the dock connector to USB cable that came with your iPhone.
4. Backup and restore your iPhone using iTunes. For information on backup and restore, please visit http://support.apple.com/kb/HT1414.
5. After restoring, your iPhone will be unlocked.
Additional information on unlocking can be found at http://support.apple.com/kb/TS3198
For questions regarding AT&T Mobile device, please visit the Phone/Device Learning Center.
Thank you for your business. For other questions about our ATT wireless service or other Mobile devices, please visit att.com.

STEP 3: Plug your old phone into your computer with the USB cable. If you already restored it then it will want you to set up up again. Just click "Set up as a new phone" then navigate back to the "Summary" tab and go straight to "Restore".


You already did File>Devices>Transfer Purchases to iTunes, right? And already backed up your phone to put it on the new phone, right? So let's do it! Restore!

The phone might ask you to enter your iTunes password. On the phone, not in iTunes. That's to stop somebody from restoring a stolen phone so they can just set it up as their own. Enter your Apple ID password. (I say it might ask you because I'm not sure it does in iOS 6 if you didn't set it up with that level of security. iOS 7 definitely requires a password to restore the iPhone to factory settings. Mine did because I'd already restored it and then reactivated it with iOS 7 to play with it. I restored it twice today just to see what happens. It doesn't ask for a password if it's already in a restored state.)

You'll get an indicator on the phone saying it's connected to iTunes, then a status bar under the Apple showing it's doing stuff. iTunes also indicates things are happening.


When the phone finishes talking to iTunes it will drop off the list of devices, restart itself, show you a status bar again, then vibrate and come back up on the list of devices. This time is should be just iPhone, not your name anymore.

I name my phone and tablet this way because
"Syncing Into a Deep Sleep" and
"Syncing Into Oblivion" amuses me.
My iPod is just named Valerie.
Notice the restored 4S is just iPhone now, not Barbara Tomlinson's iPhone.

It would save you time if you could resist restoring your old phone as soon as you get the new one. I couldn't resist. Then I set it up again with my Apple ID and everything so I could compare the screen to my new phone because they looked different to me. (The new one seemed yellow but I concluded that really the old one was just really blue.) It's not a big deal if you reactivate an old phone once you've transferred service to a new one. The old one will just come up with No Service where it used to say ATT. You can use it just like an iPod Touch.

There's a rumor on some sites that say iTunes will give you a "congratulations your phone is unlocked message." Mine didn't the first time I did it. I could have missed it so I repeated the process to see if I could get a screen grab. I did get the message the second time.


It's going to try to make you set it up. I just clicked eject in the Devices list instead of Continue.

I think I accidentally left the phone turned on for the 2 week waiting period, thus the dead battery. I finished this blog post while it charged up so I can pack it up and take it to UPS already.

4 comments:

  1. Gosh, I wish I had thought to check your blog before I bought a new iPhone and data package for my trip to Italy. I ended up getting an iPhone 5c through Sprint. AT&T simply was low on stock and I couldn't get what I wanted. Plus, I am so low tech, I had not read any good explanations about this til I now see your post above, while I'm in....Italy!

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  2. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  3. Hey,At&T has most user compare to other telecommunication provider, and most of you want to unlock your AT&T phone because you are leaving the country or want to change provider, here is the perfect unlocking site for all you AT&T folks, go check out attiphoneunlocking, this site has already unlocked four of mine and my friends' phone. It's also one of the few sites that is still able to unlock all the AT&T devices after the AT&T unlocking server shuted down.Thank you!!!
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