Unlocking an iPhone through AT&T is now lightning fast, and in some cases you'll have an unlocked iPhone in under 30 minutes. I recently had the chance to experience this directly while writing this article on checking the unlock status of devices, and was impressively surprised by the result. From filling out the initial unlock request form to the confirmation email completing the unlock, only 23 minutes passed. With how simple and fast it is – and yes it's free – there is practically no reason to not unlock your iPhone this way.
We have run through the process here before, but it's worth repeating how simple it is. You'll need an iPhone that is locked to AT&T and has either completed it's initial contract or bought full price out of contract. Current and previous AT&T customers will need to have the wireless number and basic account details, while non-customers and those who paid the full price only need the name, email, and the place of purchase. Then it's just a matter of filling out a form and waiting:
- Get the phones IMEI number beforehand, there are a few ways to find it on the iPhone itself or in iTunes, or just dial *#06# to retrieve it instantly
- Head to the official request page and fill out the brief form
Check your email in a minute or two and you'll find a request number that can be used to follow the status, but it's so quick now that you likely won't need to bother. Note that all emails from AT&T's unlocking service arrive with a subject written entirely in caps, which can look a little spammy and was even automatically filtered out as spam in one case, so if you don't find an email after about 30 minutes check your spam folder for something that says "ATT MOBILE DEVICES UNLOCK REQUEST RECEIVED" (yes, it's all caps). That email provides a timeline guestimate of 2-5 days, but as we already mentioned, it's now incredibly fast. Sit back for a little while and in short order you should get a confirmation email, also all in caps with a subject "HOW TO COMPLETE YOUR AUTHORIZED ATT MOBILE DEVICES UNLOCK" – again if you don't find this in your primary inbox be sure to check the spam folder, it appears some mail clients filtering looks at the EXCESSIVE CAPITALIZATION as a sign of something that isn't worthy of keeping.
Though it only took a whopping 23 minutes to complete this test iPhone, it was tied to an active AT&T account, and it may take a bit longer if you are no longer a customer or never were.
To complete the unlock you'll need a USB connection and a computer running iTunes. First you'll want to backup the iPhone, then insert a valid SIM card into it and restore the iPhone as new with iTunes to complete the unlock. With the iPhone freshly unlocked, now restore it from the backup you made before starting and you're good to go.
Something to keep in mind if you're following the unlock procedure is that you must have an active SIM card of some sorts, the carrier doesn't matter. In this case, I had a variety of sim cards available but used a nano-SIM from an iPhone 5 with the iPhone 4, fitted using one of the always useful SIM adapter kits that are readily available on Amazon for a couple of bucks.
Oddly, completing the process on the newest version of iTunes does not show the familiar "Congratulations, your iPhone is unlocked" message, but if you swap in an alternate SIM card or check if it's unlocked through other means, you will find it has completed.
Even if you have no intention on using the iPhone with another carrier or traveling abroad, you should always unlock a phone if given the chance. Beyond increasing your mobile carrier flexibility, it also adds a nice boost to resale value, particularly if you're selling a used iPhone on Craigslist or Ebay.