Many iPhone users find that their network doesn't 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 will 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 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 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're located. or rather, where you bought your iPhone, if you have recently moved country.
If your iPhone is from a network in the UK, the US or Canada, then I recommend using DirectUnlocks. You will find the best prices and unlock options. 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 more expensive than DirectUnlocks. But they have a huge amount of unlocking choices and can unlock networks from all over the world.
Why unlock your iPhone?
Most people get an iPhone on a contract. This will either be an 18-month, or more often 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 get the same benefits for £15-£20, so the savings over the year can be as much as £500. Same benefits. But £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's trapped in a certain network, or "carrier". This is 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 is when you use an online website to remove the carriers lock from your iPhone. It's unlocking your iPhone that allows you to move networks. There are some shops that offer iPhone unlocking, but this is a scam. They will follow these same instructions and charge you extra on top of this. You can do it as fast as they can.
There's 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.
The last iPhone that could be unlocked using software was the second iPhone, called the iPhone 3G. Software unlocking is also known as unlock codes.
The original way of unlocking phones was software unlocking. This is how all phones got unlocked. Old Nokia handsets would unlock if you entered an unlock code. When the first iPhone's got released they were also unlocked this way. Technically, 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 then 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 clearer on this. Do not do this. There are some phone shops who offer to make hardware changes to the main board inside of iPhone's. They claim that they can bypass the unlocks and allow you to use any network. There is absolutely no need to do this. Doing so will 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 only the iPhone. Apple stores the details of all the iPhones that it sells. These link to the IMEI number. They also keep a record of the unlock status and the network that an iPhone's supposed to be locked to. The IMEI unlock changes the database at Apple so that on the official records, your iPhone's 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 100% 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 to deal directly with Apple to get the database altered for that particular iPhone. Can your local corner shop 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, cut out that middle man, and 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 readers give me their IMEI numbers, rather than only friends and family, was that I was able to try networks from outside the UK.
I ended up with these 12 iPhone IMEI numbers
- 1 iPhone, locked to Verizon USA
- 1 iPhone, locked to Telstra Australia
- 2 iPhones, locked to Vodafone in the UK
- 1 iPhones, locked to Tesco Mobile
- 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
- 2 iPhone, locked to O2 in the UK
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 almost 500 poor reviews. If you found a review site with 500 1-star reviews for a service you will be likely to not even try them. But when you consider that's 500 out of almost 50,000 unlocks, they've got to be worth a shot.
In the end I got 3 websites that I wanted to test.
I had 12 iPhones to unlock, I bought 4 'unlocks' from each of the 3 unlock websites. 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 the UK networks. There is no point if they can only unlock iPhones locked to a handful of obscure carriers. 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. Yet, if the object of the unlock, 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. The unlocking company needs to get confirmation from Apple that the iPhone's IMEI has been 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's 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. You will see the IMEI number 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 important that you get the IMEI number correct. if you give the wrong number then someone else's iPhone will get unlocked and you won't be able to get a refund.
Know your iPhone model
It's important that you know what type of iPhone you have, and what network its locked to currently. Most of the sites have a cheap service 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're 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 use Official iPhone Unlock
The best iPhone unlock service ?
Each of the 3 websites were good enough. Each had their pros and cons. Some were better for the foreign networks. But as most of our readers are in the UK, I want to give the prize to DirectUnlocks. They were able to unlock all the iPhones that I asked them 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, go to Official iPhone Unlock — they have the biggest range of iPhone networks that I’ve ever seen. Including every country I could think of. 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. And I would love to see ApplePay as a payment option, but, 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 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 recommend any of them. And depending on where you’re based, the winner could be any of them. But, for those people who have an iPhone locked to a network in the UK, I would recommend DirectUnlocks.
This post first appeared here.