U.S. wireless carriers, FCC agree on mobile phone unlocking

“U.S. wireless carriers will make it easier for consumers to ‘unlock’ their mobile phones for use on a competitor’s network, Federal Communications Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler said on Thursday,” Alina Selyukh reports for Reuters.

“Wheeler told members of Congress an agreement was reached between the carriers and the agency, and details will be presented at an FCC meeting later on Thursday,” Selyukh reports. “Industry sources have said the agreement would ensure that providers notify customers about the eligibility of their phones for unlocking – by text message, for example – and could also cover some pre-paid phones. The deal would also require carriers to process or deny unlocking requests within two business days, according to FCC’s earlier guidance.”

“U.S. wireless carriers often “lock” smartphones to their networks as a way to encourage consumers to renew their mobile contracts. Consumers often get new devices at a heavily subsidized price in return for committing to longer contracts,” Selyukh reports. “The new deal would assure consumers that they could get their phones ‘unlocked’ at the end of their contract and make the process more uniform among carriers.”

Read more in the full article here.

[Thanks to MacDailyNews Reader “Arline M.” for the heads up.]


    1. Go to an AT&T store (corporate) and talk to them. Sometimes they can unlock the phone to the point where foreign SIMs are usable on those networks; I’ve even heard of them unlocking the phone altogether. Can’t hurt to ask.

      1. Tried several times. Always ended up with refusal and an advice to pay the cancelation fee to have it free off contract!!! WHAT!!?? done with them finally after so many years and now happy with tmobile and they give you free roaming data and texts in over 100 countries !!!!! I now pay half of ATT used to charge me for lesser service/package.

    2. Is his 4S out of contract? If so, he can simply fill out this online form to have AT&T unlock it. No charge. https://www.att.com/deviceunlock/client/en_US/

      AT&T will send you an email when the unlock request has been approved. (Normally within minutes, or the same day.) You will have to backup and restore the device using iTunes (AT&T will send you the instructions) but at the end iTunes will tell you “Your iPhone is now unlocked.”

      After that your son can stop in at any corner store in Japan, buy a prepaid SIM and stick that in his iPhone. He will then have a Japan phone number and use data without paying crazy roaming fees. Web, email, iMessage, FaceTime (don’t forget the new FaceTime Audio calls) should all work great.

      If your son’s 4S is not out of contract, then it’s a different story.

    3. My wife recently asked AT&T to unlock her iPhone so she could use it in Europe with a local SIM card. Her phone is still “in contract”. ATT said: no.

      Last year I asked ATT to unlock my iPhone do I could use a local French SIM card. The phone was off contract. ATT unlocked my phone outside the USA. Worked great.

      I do not understand why ATT won’t unlock _your_ phone do _you_ can use it with local SIM cards if you want to.

      Your son can still use the iPhone as a pocket computer. And can email, text, and use Face Time (or skype) when he has access to Wi-Fi. To avoid carrier charges, he must turn off his cellular network — even the part that runs in the background to fetch easils, for example. Under general settings / cellular — turn off cellular data and data roaming, too. Under email, turn off “push notifications” and choose “fetch manuall”y. (Check Apple Support for specifics for iOS 7 and your iPhone …I have an older phone.) When your son has access to Wi-Fi, he can receive messages since previous access. Etc. The key point is to understand that your iPhone uses both Wi-Fi and cellular (voice data) systems. But you must turn off the cellular systems if you want to avoid high international roaming charges, and “stealth” charges if you were to let your phone check for email in the background every 10 minutes. Good luck. — Written from Paris.

      1. One more thing. The GPS chip is separate, so will show location on a map without Wi-Fi or cellular data — provided the map has been downloaded. So your son can download the local city map when he has Wi-Fi access. Then he will be able to see where he is on the map even when he is “offline”. (But he would need cellular data (or Wi-Fi) to interact “live” while routing, so this feature will not work.)

        1. He can also remove his SIM card entirely and store in a safe place. His iPhone then becomes a pocket computer with Internet accessibility. When his plane lands back home — or in an emergency in Jspan — he can re-insert SIM card for regular cellular voice and data service.

    4. Restraint. Tell him not to use his phone. It’s not easy, by the way, to get a temporary plan in Japan for a foreigner… and it’s expensive if you do.

      Does he REALLY need a phone? Or will wi-fi suffice?

  1. When I bought the 5s I called AT&T, asked to unlock the 4s so I could sell it. The agent walked me through The process it took less than 10 minutes. Unlocked immediately. Sold next day for $200.00. Done

    1. $200??? That is a steal for an unlocked 4S, unless it showed signs of wear and tear and is incomplete. A nice 4S with original box and accessories is easily worth nearly $300. I have sold three at $280 each. Even a 4 will bring slightly more than $200. IPhones are gold.

    1. Me too, I called them up after my two years was up on our two iPhone 4 models and they politely unlocked them. I don’t understand why these people are upset that AT&T won’t unlock their under-contract phones. That’s the way it works.

    2. If you buy a 5S, say, to replace your off-contract 4S or whatever, ATT mandates a 14-day waiting period (see their web site) before the old phone can be unlocked. Meanwhile, ATT will offer to buy your old phone (for less than it is worth unlocked), but that offer expires in 14 days from purchase date/service change of new phone. Coincidence? I am waiting for the 14-day period to elapse on three friends’ phones.

  2. Sprint does not unlock iphones, except for international use only but not to go to other carriers such as T Mobile. Even getting the international unlock after having had a contract on my 4S for more than 2 years was not easy either.

    1. Sprint’s CDMA tech is not compatible with GSM networks. I’m not even sure if Sprint’s CDMA is compatible with Verizon’s CDMA.

      As far as I know, the only reasons to unlock a Sprint phone are for resale or to use a compatible MVNO service.

Reader Feedback

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