If you have bought an AT&T iPhone 5 without a contract over the past few days, chances are that you want to unlock it to use it on another carrier. The traditional process involves filling out an online form on AT&T’s website, sending a fax (yes, a fax) to AT&T, waiting 5 to 7 days and restoring your phone. It turns out that it is much easier than that: just restore the phone in iTunes and it will be unlocked.
We have confirmed the process with AT&T’s technical support and successfully tried it with a T-Mobile SIM card. After restoring the device in iTunes, the user is prompted with the usual unlocking message: “Congratulations, your iPhone has been unlocked.”
This message wasn’t enough for me though. I need more proof that I could use the iPhone on every carrier and abroad.
After receiving the notification my new iPhone was unlocked, I cut a micro-SIM card into the shape of a nano-SIM by using the AT&T SIM card that was already in the iPhone 5 as a guide. The most difficult part was to make it narrower so that you can close the tiny nano-SIM tray, though some have reported that this step may be optional.
When you buy an iPhone, the device is added to Apple’s big iPhone database thanks to the IMEI, which is used as a unique identifier. Full price and subsidized iPhone 5 models apparently don’t have the same status in the database as it is flagged as “ready to be unlocked” when purchased without a contract.
The iPhone 5 we tested was bought in an Apple retail store, but we couldn’t confirm this with another, pre-ordered iPhone 5 — even though the device was purchased at full price, it was tied to an existing AT&T account during the pre-order process. The carrier clearly states on its website that you have to be either a former customer or a customer without contract obligations to be eligible to go through the entire process, fax included. It could be problematic as well if you bought your iPhone 5 directly from AT&T.
Chris Velazco contributed reporting.