AT&T Mobility: Yes, we’ll unlock your iPhone at end of contract

“Following a decision by the Copyright Office of the Library of Congress that ruled that unlocking an iPhone without carrier permission is now illegal — and pressure from both President Obama and the FCC to reverse the ban — AT&T has clarified its policy and will unlock customer smartphones that have completed their contract,” Electronista reports. “The move requires a customer’s account to be in good standing with no unpaid balance, but the company has not mentioned an extra fee for the service.”

Electronista reports, “The new Copyright Office ruling not only banned customers unlocking their own phones, but imposed severe financial penalties and even jail time for doing so without permission of the carrier… Several bills are now pending before Congress to undo the ban, but all only allow unlocking of smartphones after the completion of a contract with a cell provider.””

Much more in the full article here.

20 Comments

      1. Maybe it’s Who’s phone. Who? Absolutely. Well then who has the Samsung Galaxy? No, Who has the iPhone. That’s what I’m trying to find out.

      1. The phone is fully paid for a few months before the 2-year contract ends, which is one of the reasons why the subsidy model has to go. Your bill doesn’t go down and the carrier still ‘owns’ your phone.

  1. According to the online petition, the Whitehouse agrees with the unlockers.

    I signed it, and received notification last week (along with several of you, I’m sure).

    The law will be reversed. It’s only a matter of time.

  2. AT&T can go Fu*% themselves. Price fixing and gouging for data that cost’s .0000003 per byte and limiting/capping/throttling is beyond acceptable. Text messaging and calling charged to both sender and receiver is double dipping. Requiring a data plan on a smartphone plan is beyond acceptable and just wrong. Welcome to the greed, indeed!
    AT&T, go Fu*% yourselves, take your unlock and shove it up your collective asses. I no longer subswcribe to AT&T and refuse to until I can get a plan that costs $20-$30 a month, that is reasonable. $80-$100 a month is beyond most people who only make $10/hr (80% of population in the workforce that is not the top 1%, if you are lucky to have a job at all)

    1. Look at StraightTalk wireless at Wal-Mart. $45/month, unlimited everything. (Although I don’t know how “unlimited” that is.) You have to buy the phone outright, although Wal-Mart will let you buy it and pay interest free $25/month until it is paid off in about 2 years.

      The new plans at T-Mobile are similar.

      Where the carriers have been really corrupt is the “free” or discounted phones, paid for in higher monthly fees, and not reducing the payments when the phone is paid off. If you want to get off the continual upgrade treadmill, you’ll get screwed.

    1. Except, where are you going to use it except AT&T? Unlocking it is nice but until you can find a service provider that supports the phone it is a useless gesture. LTE will help but not completely as even with LTE you still have the issue of providers using different bands for voice and data service.
      Reportedly, both AT&T and Verizon will run their LTE network in the 700 MHz band, but Verizon will use spectrum between 746 and 787 MHz, while AT&T will use 704-746 MHz. MetroPCS, AT&T, Verizon, and Cricket all own LTE spectrum in the 1700 MHz range, and Light Squared owns spectrum around 1500 MHz. Unfortunately, if carriers want their devices built to be incompatible with other networks, that’s what will happen.

      1. Bad news for anyone hoping that the expansion of LTE in America would mean we would finally have more freedom to switch carriers. A new report is saying that it is likely that devices for the Verizon LTE network will be incompatible with the AT&T LTE network because the frequency bands for each network will be different.

        Most GSM networks run on the same frequencies, meaning you can simply swap your SIM card in an unlocked device while traveling and be able to have service wherever you go. There are some differences, like the frequency difference between T-Mobile and AT&T, which means devices for either network will be able to use the other’s EDGE network, but not the faster 3G network. Similarly, it looks like LTE could be the great divider, not unifier, unless all phones come with radios compatible with the entire spectrum, which isn’t very likely given carrier history in the USA.

      2. I brought mine to Germany on a trip and slipped a sim card in and I was good to go. Couldn’t have done that locked. In the US, TMobile? Doesn’t Sprint use SIM cards, I don’t know. You do have options. Prepaid plan from Walmart. Don’t be a tool.

        1. What a myopic view you have of the world, all self important.
          So tell me, what is a person traveling FROM Germany to the US to do when his/her phone doesn’t roam in a coverage area provided by Verizon or Sprint? Certainly HIS/HER phone isn’t locked but where is he/she gong to find a sim to use on an incompatible service provider with incompatible frequencies and NO OTHER OPTION available…???
          That’s what I thought…
          Now who exactly is the tool here?

  3. “The LTE interoperability mess.
    Dear Maggie,
    I read your recent column about picking the best carrier for a new 4G LTE iPad. It was helpful. I know that AT&T and Verizon have different flavors of 4G LTE. And I know that if I want a 4G LTE iPad, I have to decide now which carrier I want because the devices are incompatible on the different networks. But can you explain why this is? And also is there any hope that in the future this issue could be fixed and devices could be compatible with each other? And what about other carriers? Will Verizon’s or AT&T’s 4G LTE ever be compatible with other carriers launching 4G LTE networks?
    Thanks,
    Frustrated in tech
    Dear Frustrated in tech,
    I’m glad you found the previous column helpful. Unfortunately, you are correct about the incompatibilities between the two networks. Devices built for either AT&T’s and Verizon’s 4G LTE networks can’t be used on the other’s network. The new iPad is a great example of this, as you’ve pointed out. If you want 4G LTE connectivity on your new iPad, you have to decide when you buy the device if you want to use AT&T’s or Verizon’s service. And neither iPad with 4G LTE will be able to connect to Sprint’s 4G LTE network once it’s built nor will it operate on MetroPCS’s LTE network or any other smaller carrier’s LTE network.

    As a consumer I find this fact extremely frustrating. I thought the whole reason that major carriers around the world, such as Verizon, were deploying 4G LTE instead of some other technology was because it would make it easier for subscribers to roam onto other networks.
    I also naively expected Verizon’s 4G LTE to usher in a new era of openness, since the carrier was basically forced through an “openness” condition on the spectrum it’s using to build its 4G LTE network. Before Verizon bid in the 700 MHz spectrum auction, the FCC put a condition on the spectrum forcing whoever bought it to agree to keep the network “open.”
    But the conditions were worded broadly, and after Verizon ended up with the spectrum, it claimed that it was keeping the network open allowing new applications and offering a streamlined process for device makers and others to build devices for its network. Still, I think consumers are getting short-changed. What they really want is the ability to take any device to any 4G LTE network. And that isn’t what is happening today.
    The reality is that interoperability for 4G LTE services in general is nonexistent. There’s no roaming among carriers in the U.S. or abroad on these networks. And there are no interoperable devices. Strangely the situation is even worse than it is for the older 3G network technology in the U.S., where the market is split between two major U.S. GSM carriers and two CDMA providers.
    Spectrum differences
    To answer your first question, there are some technical reasons for why AT&T’s and Verizon’s LTE networks are incompatible with each other and every other wireless carrier in the world. Some operators use completely different spectrum frequencies for their LTE service. For example, AT&T and Verizon are using 700 MHz spectrum, while Sprint is using 1900 MHz and some 800 MHz spectrum. That’s why those networks are incompatible, even though the underlying technology is the same.
    Related stories
    Apple iPad (Review)
    Best Buy and eBay CEOs tell mobile operators they need to change
    Verizon’s 700MHz spectrum may not be so valuable after all
    So why can’t AT&T and Verizon interoperate since they’re both using 700 MHz spectrum? This is a very good question. And the answer is that the 700 MHz band of spectrum is simply a mess. It was originally used for broadcast TV. And over the years, the FCC, which regulates our wireless airwaves, has moved broadcasters off of the spectrum and sold different portions of the spectrum, creating different so-called band-classes.
    As a result, the 700 MHz chunk of spectrum was split into two parts, an upper portion and a lower portion. And because of interference issues, different band plans were adopted for the spectrum, making it so the two portions couldn’t interoperate.
    Verizon got a nationwide license in the upper C block. That’s what it’s using to provide its 700 MHz spectrum. AT&T bought smaller licenses in the lower portion of the 700 MHz band.
    Some smaller carriers, who also own spectrum in the lower half of 700 MHz complain that AT&T has made the situation even worse, by adopting a different band-class for the spectrum it’s using for LTE. The result is that smaller regional carriers, which also have 700 MHz in the lower portion of 700 MHz can’t interoperate with AT&T. Not only does this mean that their customers can’t roam onto AT&T’s network, but it also means that they will have a harder time getting handset makers to create devices for their networks. These carriers have far fewer subscribers than AT&T or Verizon.
    “There are several regional operators with 700 MHz spectrum to build 4G LTE networks,” said Steve Berry, CEO of the Rural Cellular Association trade group. “They have the spectrum and the cash to build their networks. But what they really need is interoperability so they can build an ecosystem of devices and so their customers can roam.”
    Berry, who sat down to chat with me in an interview this week, believes AT&T and Verizon have cleverly engineered their networks and the spectrum they are using to ensure that they don’t have to provide this interoperability. But the FCC could figure out a way to get all wireless carriers using the 700 MHz band on the same page, he said, eventually there could be interoperability across the entire band.
    The FCC is currently reviewing the interference issues in the lower section of the 700 MHz band. If these issues can be worked out, the FCC can start to force more interoperability and perhaps eventually it can get Verizon to interoperate, too.
    More from Ask Maggie
    The phone subsidy is paid off, so why is my monthly bill still high?
    Beyond the Samsung Galaxy S4
    Carrier confusion: When am I free to leave my family plan?
    Why you should wait for the Samsung Galaxy S4
    Is Republic’s $19 cell phone service too good to be true?
    The lack of compatibility among the networks hurts consumers in several ways. Not only is there a big possibility that smaller carriers will simply cease to exist because they can’t compete with cutting edge devices. But it will also limit which devices even get 4G LTE capability. While consumers may already be used to choosing a cell phone based on which carrier offers it, they are far less likely to lock themselves into a carrier when buying a digital camera or any other consumer electronic device or connected appliance.
    Imagine if you had to buy a new TV simply because you wanted to switch cable providers. That sounds nuts, right? And there are many people, including retailers, such as Best Buy former CEO Brian Dunn who think that what carriers have been doing in terms of locking devices particular networks is bad for the growth of the entire consumer electronics business. At the Mobile World Congress trade show in Barcelona in February, he called on retailers to open their devices and allow them freely roam on other wireless networks. He said this would greatly reduce the price of products and would spur more adoption of connected-devices..
    “This inefficient supply chain is driving costs up instead of down,” he said.
    What about the future?
    Now to answer your second question: Will things change in the future?
    As I said earlier, the FCC is looking into the interference issue. And the agency could work to harmonize the entire 700 MHz band. But unfortunately, even if this were to happen, carriers can still lock their devices into working only on their network.
    I hope that the FCC eventually addresses this issue, but I wouldn’t hold my breath expecting things to change much anytime soon. Unfortunately, one of the consequences of having two major wireless carriers serving most of the customers in the U.S. market is that they have a lot of power. And they can use that power to dictate how spectrum is used as well as influence which specifications suppliers build for. And if they want to keep customers locked into their networks via the devices, they can do that.
    I hope this helped answer your question.”
    The whole thing is a complete mess and that is EXACTLY how the carriers want it. Greed at its finest…

      1. And I say to you, where is your outrage? I seem to remember the Bell’s were broken up for eerily similar behavior. It used to be that you could only rent land line phones from the phone service provider to use on their networks (now it’s called subsidies). You couldn’t simply go out and buy ANY old phone to use. Sound familiar? Landlines were $60/month plus (ironically the average cost of cell service today). Competition was supposed to drive cost down (has it really? Pricing has remained the same for the last 7 years, if not increasing), regulation was supposed to promote interoperability (has it? Why is every provider on different frequencies and different types CDMA, EVDO, GSM, 3G, 3G LTE, 4G, LTE, Advanced LTE, HSPA, HSPA+, TDS, etc.) and breaking up the Bell’s was supposed to prevent what’s happening today (except now it is worse because there is only choice between 4 providers, all with similar price structures, all on incompatible frequencies with specious contracts, incomplete coverage areas, dropped calls and subsidies). Seems to me that NOTHING has changed except gotten worse. The US is the largest land mass with competing cell companies, which prevents overall complete coverage areas. Imagine how great cell service would be if there was only one standard on the same frequencies. No more dropped calls, greater freedom of choice with regard to providers, no more specious contracts, greater roaming ability, cheaper infrastructure maintenance, lower overall cost to the end user, etc. Look to the European nations for a great example of WHY you should be outraged, they are a perfect example of why the US system is broken and reason enough to have every american outraged!

Reader Feedback

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.