iPhone Unlocking Websites Reviewed
Something that many iPhone users come across is that their mobile network doesn't really like the idea of them switching to a SIM only deal. These deals allow people to save a lot of money if they choose to not get a new iPhone from the network. But the networks normally lock the handsets so that you can't use a SIM card from another network. But don't worry, it's not impossible and we'll take you through how to unlock your iPhone.
Changing to a cheaper deal on another network, or even using a local SIM card when you're abroad, to save on roaming charges, requires something called an IMEI, or factory, unlock. It's the only legal and safe way to permanently free your iPhone from your network provider. This gives you the option to pick a deal that is right for you. Picking the right company to do an IMEI unlock depends on where you are located, or rather, where your iPhone was originally bought, if you have recently moved country.
If your iPhone is from a network in the UK, the US or Canada, then I recommmend using DirectUnlocks. You’ll find the best prices and unlock options, in my opinion, although if you are trying to unlock an iPhone from outside these countries, then there are other websites with more networks.
If your iPhone is from a network outside the UK, the US or Canada, then I would use Official iPhone Unlock. They are slightly dearer than DirectUnlocks, but they have a huge amount of unlocking choices and can unlock networks from all over the world.
iPhone Unlocking – How to
Most people get an iPhone on a contract. This will either be an 18 month, or more commonly a 24 month contract. And at the end of that, you get a "free" upgrade to a new iPhone and you continue to pay your bill. But as the iPhones get better and better, it can actually make financial sense to keep your mobile for an extra year.
If you are paying £50 a month on a contract, and you switch to a SIM only deal, you can probably get the same benefits for £15-£20, so the savings over the year can be as much as £500. Same benefits. Just £500 cheaper.
The phone networks don't want you to save money though. They want to keep you on these contracts, with the high charges and the expensive roaming fees. So they lock their phones to their network. This ties you to them, even when your contract with them has finished.
What is iPhone locking?
In a nutshell, phone locking is when your iPhone is trapped in a certain network, or "carrier". This is done to stop you from switching to another network, even if that new network offers you a cheaper contract. Locking your iPhone to their network lets them charge you whatever they want to, knowing full well that you can't switch networks. How do you get past this you ask? It's simple once you know how.
iPhone unlocking, on the other hand, is when you use an online website to remove that lock from your iPhone and let you move networks. There are some shops that offer iPhone unlocking, but this is just a scam. They will just follow these instructions and charge you extra on top of this. You can do it just as fast as them.
There's basically three ways of getting an iPhone unlocked. Well, I say three, but two of them are scams. Only one method works consistently and permanently. The other two ways of unlocking an iPhone have too many downsides to be even worth considering.
It hasn't been possible to unlock any iPhones since the second iPhone, which was called the iPhone 3G, using the software method. This is also known as unlock codes.
The original way of unlocking phones was called software unlocking. This is how all phones used to be unlocked. Old Nokia handsets would unlock if you entered an unlock code. When the first iPhones were released they could also be unlocked this way. Technicially it depended on a loophole in the phone software, which let people switch networks.
As soon as Apple found this loophole they shut it down, and since the iPhone 4 it has not been possible to unlock any iPhones using this method. So, it's definitely not going to work with your new handset.
The "Alter your iPhone's Hardware" Method
I can't be any more clear on this. Do not do this.
There are some phone shops who offer to make hardware changes to the main board inside of iPHones. They claim that they can bypass the unlocks and allow the iPhone to be used on any network. There is absolutely no need to do this. You are going to invalidate your warranty immediately and when you read how easy an IMEI unlock is, you'll wonder why anyone would do this.
IMEI or Factory Unlocking
The most reliable way to unlock your iPhone is by using an IMEI unlock. This is also called a factory unlock. The IMEI code is a unique number that all phones have, not just the iPhone. Apple stores details of all the iPhones that it sells and these are linked to the IMEI number. They also keep a record of the unlock status and the network that an iPhone is supposed to be locked to.
The IMEI unlock actually changes the database at Apple so that on the official records, your iPhone is marked as unlocked. This makes the unlock permanent. With some other methods, Apple can send a software update out that locks all the phones to the original networks. This can't happen with an IMEI unlock.
It's also oerfectly safe, and will not affect your warranty at all. It's definitely the only solution which I would recommend.
Who can do an IMEI unlock
There are a lot of people who claim to be able to do iPhone unlocking. But I want you to think about what I said was involved. The people doing the unlocks need to have the clout that they deal direct with Apple to get the database altered for that particular iPhone. So, can your local corner shop really do that?
The answer is no. They take your money, and they deal with one of the big unlocking websites. What you can do, after reading this, is cut out that middle man, and just deal with the website yourself.
To help you figure out what's available out there, I've tested some of the big unlock sites with various iPhones and networks.
Testing iPhone Unlocking Companies.
The first part of this was trying to get enough iPhone IMEI numbers that I could get unlocked. I got a few from friends, and people who use this website, and in the end I had 12 iPhones to unlock. The good part about having people from the internet giving me their IMEI, rather than just friends and family, was that I was able to get networks from outside the UK.
I ended up with these iPhone IMEI numbers
- 1 iPhone locked to Verizon USA
- 1 iPhone locked to Telstra Australia
- 2 iPhones locked to Vodafone in the UK
- 2 iPhones locked to O2 in the UK
- 1 iPhone locked to Three UK
- 2 iPhones locked to Asda Mobile
- 1 iPhone locked to T-Mobile UK
- 1 iPhone locked to Virgin Mobile
- 1 iPhone locked to Tesco Mobile
Which unlocking websites to use?
I began by using Google to get a list of as many websites as possible. Then I started to read reviews. Reviews can be dangerous, especially if all you're reading is the negative ones. So, I needed to use a little common sense. If a company was unlocking 500 iPhones a day, but got 5 poor reviews a day, that's still a 99% rating. But 5 poor reviews a day, over a period of 3 months, on the same website, is nearly 500 poor reviews. If you found a review site with 500 1-star reviews for a service you might be tempted to not even try them. But when you consider that's 500 out of nearly 50,000 unlocks, I think they're worth a shot.
In the end I got 3 websites that I wanted to test.
I bought 4 unlocks, because there was no point getting the same iPhone unlocked at two different sites, and then I let them get on with it.
How to judge the winner.
I needed to have a system by which to judge the results. Here it is
Did they unlock the iPhone?
This is the most important one for me. It doesn't matter how good their website is, or how amazing their customer service is if they can't unlock the iPhone.
What networks do they unlock?
It's important that they have a wide number of networks, especially all of the UK networks. There is no point if they can unlock every iPhone that is locked to a handful of obscure carriers that nobody is going to need. They have to be able to unlock every model of iPhone from every popular network
Price isn't everything. I get that. If one website is cheaper than another but takes twice as long, then that's not good. However, if the object of this is to move to a cheaper SIM only deal, to save money, we can't be paying more than our savings to unlock the iPhone.
How fast was the iPhone unlock?
Like I said before, there is no point in me recommending a website that takes 6-8 weeks to carry out an iPhone unlock. It's important for you to realise that this is a process, and there can be delays, especially as the unlocking company needs to get confirmation from Apple that the iPhone IMEI has been updated in their database. But it definitely shouldn't take weeks and weeks
How to Unlock your iPhone
Find the IMEI code.
Remember, the IMEI number or code, is the unique number that tells Apple if your iPhone is locked or not. There are 3 ways to find the IMEI code on an iPhone
Using the dialer, call *#06# (star-hash-zero-six-hash) and the IMEI code will show on your screen
In the iPhone menu, go to Settings > General > About. The IMEI number should be listed on the screen.
Connect your iPhone to iTunes on a computer. On the information page, click on the phone number. This tells you several pieces of information about the iPhone, one of which is the IMEI number.
The IMEI should be 15 digits long. It's really important that you get the IMEI number correct because if you give the wrong number then somebody else's iPhone is going to be unlocked.
Know your iPhone model
It's important that you know what type of iPhone you have, and what network it is locked to currently. Most of the sites have a cheap service which will try to determine what network your iPhone is currently locked to, but you will know because it's the mobile network that you've been paying the money to for all that time.
Choose the website
If you are based in the UK then I would go straight to DirectUnlocks. They have a great range of networks and have the best prices.
If you are in the US or Canada then iPhoneIMEI is the best.
And finally, if you are outside the UK, the US or Canada then try Official iPhone Unlock
The best iPhone unlocking websites
Each of the 3 websites were probably good enough. Each had their pros and cons. Some were better for the foreign networks, but as most of our readers are based in the UK, I want to give the overall prize to DirectUnlocks.
They were able to unlock all of the iPhones that I asked to to. They do seem to concentrate on the UK and US networks, but as long as that's what you have, then I would go with them. (If your network isn't listed on DirectUnlocks then definitely go to Official iPhone Unlock – they have the biggest range of iPhone networks that I've ever seen. Every country that I could think of is included)
DirectUnlocks are definitely cheaper than the others too. That's a big tick for me. Cheap, reliable and good customer service.
The Cons: Nobody is perfect, and I don't want you to think that DirectUnlocks are. They could do with having more networks maybe. And I would love to see ApplePay as a payment option, but really, other than that, I was very happy with them. I'd definitely use them again to unlock my own iPhone.
There is only one reliable way to unlock your iPhone and that is with IMEI or factory unlocking. Hardware unlocking, or software unlocking, is just a scam. It doesn’t work.
I spent a long time looking at a wide range of unlocking sites. I chose what looked like the 3 best ones, and I tested them. To be honest, I could probably recommend any of them. And depending on where you are based, the winner could be any of them, but for those people who have an iPhone locked to a network in the UK then I would recommend DirectUnlocks.