AT&T begins unlocking GSM iPhones, but it could take a week to do it

Apr 11, 2012
Tech

AT&T announced last week that it would begin unlocking iPhones for customers who had fulfilled their two-year contracts with the company, allowing them to leave AT&T and activate the device on any network that supports the internal technology, such as T-Mobile. It was a pretty big deal, precipitated by a call from Apple CEO Tim […]

AT&T announced last week that it would begin unlocking iPhones for customers who had fulfilled their two-year contracts with the company, allowing them to leave AT&T and activate the device on any network that supports the internal technology, such as T-Mobile.

It was a pretty big deal, precipitated by a call from Apple CEO Tim Cook in response to an email from an iPhone user asking for his phone to be unlocked. The result seems to be AT&T making it a lot easier for iPhone owners to jump ship and even take their own phones with them. But as Macworld reports, it’s not a perfect or seamless process, and AT&T reportedly is taking as long as a week to fulfill unlock requests.

Apparently, however, getting your iPhone unlocked is not an easy process, despite the fact that AT&T has pledged to help iPhone owners through it. Users have to make their requests to AT&T either by walking into an AT&T store, calling customer support or through online support. Regardless of the option, the unlock won’t happen right away, because AT&T has to verify the device really is off contract and that your account is in good standing.

Once that’s done, in theory, AT&T ships the unlock request off to Apple, which does its own processing and puts the necessary information into the iTunes system. Then the user should just have to plug the phone into iTunes and Apple’s system should unlock the phone automatically, saving users from having to jailbreak phones themselves, which can leave them vulnerable to malware and voids the Apple warranty on the devices.

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According to Macworld, however, the process isn’t going that simply for many users. Reporter Ed Oswald said in the story he had trouble when taking his phone to an AT&T store, where the sales representative working didn’t know what he was talking about. In trying to send his request online, Oswald had to wait some 45 minutes to talk to an online support rep, and after going through the process, received an email from AT&T saying the unlock request process would take eight days.

However, it doesn’t seem that AT&T’s unlock processing time is typical. Macworld says users have reported being told they’d have to wait three to five days, five to seven days, and even slightly more, while others had their phones unlocked within minutes of making the request. Apparently, AT&T wouldn’t comment on what was taking so long.

It sounds as though there could be several culprits at work here, or even a combination of them. AT&T’s unwillingness to comment could suggest that quite a few customers are taking advantage of the unlock – not at all a crazy notion, given AT&T’s reputation for service with the iPhone. On the other hand, it might be that any sizeable number of unlocks could be something a lot of employees at AT&T aren’t used to dealing with. Remember the rep from earlier in the story at the AT&T store who had no idea what Oswald was talking about? It’s very possible that that confusion isn’t isolated, given that AT&T has never really had a lot of unlocks to deal with at once.

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Whatever the case, it doesn’t sound as if the company is stalling or as though there are any specific troubles with the process – it’s just taking a few days for some. Meanwhile, T-Mobile is trying to coax AT&T iPhone owners over to its network, with its much lower data rates (but also slower data connections). If you’re thinking about jumping ship from AT&T, it sounds like it might be a good idea to get the process started.

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Phil Hornshaw

Phil Hornshaw is a freelance writer, editor and author living in Los Angeles, dividing his time between playing video games, playing video games on his cell phone, and writing about playing video games. He’s also the co-author of So You Created a Wormhole: The Time Traveler’s Guide to Time Travel, which attempts to mix time travel pop culture with some semblance of science, as well as tips on the appropriate means of riding dinosaurs. Check out his profile.

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