How much could go wrong by letting some random guy try to unlock my AT&T iphone for use with Tmobile?
January 27, 2012 10:50 AM   Subscribe

Could I potentially ruin my Iphone (which I love) if I take it to some guy suggested by T-Mobile to get it unlocked because AT&T won't give me the unlock code.

I've had an ATT Iphone 3G (or maybe 3GS) for the last 4+ years work. My job has paid the $100 @ month (900 minutes + unlimited data) and I've loved everything about the phone except for the crappy phone reception. Now I've left my job and don't want to pay the $100 bucks a month considering I never come close to using up the minutes and the phone reception is so lame. I hate to give up the unlimited data but I never stream movies or do anything serious on my phone so I don't know how much value that really has for me.

So, I've been thinking about getting an Ipad (with no data plan) for the fun stuff and dropping my phone plan down to a bare minimum. I'd assumed my current ATT Iphone would become a glorified Ipod touch and I'd get a new phone through whatever non-ATT provider I chose.

T-mobile seemed to have the cheapest monthly rates and so I'm looking at the T-mobile pre-paid plan for $30 @ month that gives you 1,500 minutes/texts + 30 MB of super slow data. Since I'd primarily be using it to check email I don't think it would be a major issue. I was about to get the LG Optimus T phone when I asked if I could use my Iphone on their network. She said I could if it was unlocked and that I should call ATT customer care first and then she suggested this guy "Manny, who unlocks phones" if the ATT approach didn't work.

So, ATT won't unlock the phone because of "contract issues". My modem firmware is 05.16.02 so I can't use that ultrasn0w software that was mentioned in the Iphone thread from a few days ago. I'm not super technical so was hoping to get some guidance from Mefites
* Is it possible to unlock my ATT Iphone without too much risk?
* Is T-mobile going to be an improvement over ATT?
* Should I just buy the LG Optimus and let my Iphone revert to an Ipod Touch?
* Am I crazy to give up the unlimited AT&T data just as I'm about to get an Ipad? I would like to about $50 a month total and right now I can only get it down to $80 if I stay with AT&T.

I'm open to all scenarios or suggestions on how to cobble together the best system.
posted by victoriab to Technology (17 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I'm not sure about the feasibility of unlocking an iPhone with that firmware. In my opinion you might as well give it a shot -- the current version of iOS (5.0.1) is jailbroken, so even if the unlock fails you can restore it back to legit iOS and jailbreak again (say, to use an iPod), as I understand it.

I have an iPhone (3GS) on T-Mobile and the data is really slow. It usually works fine for checking email, maps, and light browsing, though.
posted by neckro23 at 11:01 AM on January 27, 2012

Don't unlock and move over to T-Mobile. Their network does not support 3G speeds on the iPhone. It's possible for you to sidegrade your 3G's firmware to the 6.15.whatever version from the iPad that is unlockable via Ultrasn0w (I've done it without difficulty), but I would recommend against doing that for the aforementioned reason.
posted by killdevil at 11:02 AM on January 27, 2012

Best answer: If you want to go ahead and try an unlock, though, you can do it yourself by following one of the ultra-detailed, entirely noob-friendly unlock tutorials available here at iClarified.
posted by killdevil at 11:05 AM on January 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

Conversely, you might just want to buy a new 4S on Verizon, which has great reception (but is expensive on a monthly basis). The difference between a 3S and a 4S is night and day.
posted by Oktober at 11:24 AM on January 27, 2012

You're aware that ATT and T-Mo operate on different 3G frequencies, right? You're only going to get EDGE on T-Mo. 900/1700/2100. ATT is 850/1900.

Also, you don't just "get an unlock code" for unlocking an iPhone. iPhones don't unlock with the remarkable ease of phones from RIM, Nokia, Samsung, Moto, etc etc etc infinity. Apple makes it incredibly complicated and is one of the major reasons why I will never buy an iPhone and would never unless it was purchased unlocked (and good luck managing that in the US).
posted by ethnomethodologist at 11:47 AM on January 27, 2012

Response by poster: Based on the iClarified site it looks like "there is no unlock for your current baseband yet" so I might be totally out of gas on that option anyway. I'm leaning to letting it revert to an Ipod touch and buying the T-mobile Android phone for now. The lower monthly fee of $30 with Tmobile (versus $80 or $100 with ATT) is the only way I can justify the Ipad purchase.
posted by victoriab at 11:48 AM on January 27, 2012

Best answer: It's possible to run a prepaid AT&T sim card on the iPhone, although their official policy doesn't allow it.

Go to an AT&T corporate store. Tell them you want a prepaid SIM (not a gophone sim, though; those are locked to a specific phone). Don't tell them it's an iPhone --- If they ask, say it's an unlocked android phone or something. With prepaid, you pay 10 cents/minute and buy blocks of data that last for 30 days, and it will be at 3G speed.
posted by qxntpqbbbqxl at 11:53 AM on January 27, 2012

Best answer: Don't bother unlocking. Even with the 'easy, no hassle' options, you still have to be aware enough to not update your phone, then when you forget and it auto updates you have to recover the whole thing and it's a pain in the neck. Given your self description here, that sounds like more effort than you want. Just use it as an ipod touch with wifi. [source: I unlocked my phone for my sister to use and oh christ never again]

Also, the unlimited ATT data on your current plan would not apply to the iPad, that would have to be a separate plan anyway.
posted by jacalata at 12:04 PM on January 27, 2012 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I've run an iPhone on t-mobile's edge, for about six months. You only get 30mb a month on the plan you're talking about, but that's enough to check e-mail just about whenever you want it, if you're in an area with decent coverage. Sometimes it just wouldn't connect, or I couldn't even open up a simple text page, but I mostly wasn't trying to do that, so I was fairly pleased with the very cheap service. However, if your modem firmware is not currently updatable, it's unlikely that the guy at your store can do anything about it.

Another thing you might want to consider, AT&T MVNO's like Red Pocket or Jolt. You can get monthly pre-paid plans starting at $40, or $50 for unlimited talk/text and 250 mb of data. This requires no jailbreaking or unlocking or anything, since these MVNO's run off of AT&T's towers. They're a bit more expensive than T-Mobile's plans, but you get the data and you'd be able to keep your old phone if you're happy with it, and it would work essentially the same as when on AT&T (many people find that the data speeds are a bit lower on MVNO's, but still quite a bit better than with T-mobile's EDGE).

I'm currently with Red Pocket, and really like the service, very simple and much cheaper than staying with AT&T with a similar data plan. Plus, no contracts, no start-up fees, etc.
posted by skewed at 12:42 PM on January 27, 2012

Best answer: I wouldn't trust Manny-the-guy-who-unlocks-phones. The only way to carrier unlock that baseband right now (that I know of) is to replace it with the iPad baseband. That's a permanent change which degrades the iPhone's capabilities. It may work great, but it could definitely hurt your phone. More detail in this FAQ.

Presumably the gremlins will figure out how to unlock that baseband eventually. You may be better off waiting for that.
posted by Nelson at 1:04 PM on January 27, 2012

Yeah, the website says any unlocked iPhone will work, which is true. The implication is that carrier-locked phones won't work, which is mostly true. An iPhone that is carrier locked to a non-AT&T carrier (such as an iphone bought in another country) will not work. However, they iPhones locked to AT&T will work with Red Pocket, Jolt and H20 wireless, all of which are AT&T MVNO's. I'm speaking from personal experience, the iPhone in my pocket is carrier locked to AT&T, I had to unlock it to use on T-Mobile, but it works fine on Red Pocket and H20 Wireless. I've used both in the last four months (H20 works fine, but the customers service is terrible, awful, unbelievably bad).

Why do they have that warning, implying that locked iPhones don't work? I'm not sure, maybe they don't want to anger people with foreign iPhones trying to activate their iPhones that won't work on their network. Maybe it has something to do with their contracts with AT&T, don't know. But it definitely works with AT&T iPhones.

However, I'm just a guy on the internet, so you're right to be wary. You can read up on it on these pre-paid phone discussion forums, where I did my research before buying.
posted by skewed at 5:26 PM on January 27, 2012

My husband has a "locked" AT&T iPhone 4 running on T-Mobile. We're using the Gevey Pro magic SIM adapter - its a little chip that goes between the SIM and the phone.

So apparently its capable of working with the iPhone 3 & your version of modem firmware. I believe you also need a micro SIM adapter to get it to work with the iPhone 3.

You don't need to be technical at all to use it.
posted by Long Way To Go at 5:51 PM on January 27, 2012

I haven't heard of anyone other than that one person in that thread successfully getting a Gevey SIM + micro SIM adapter to fit together in an iPhone 3G or 3GS, and part of my work every day is handling lots of jailbreaking and unlocking questions (including hanging out with people who jailbreak and unlock phones for a living)...

Other than that, as Nelson linked above and other people mentioned, the iPad baseband (6.15.00) is your unofficial unlocking option if you want to use an iPhone 3G or 3GS on T-Mobile. (The iClarified guides that don't mention the iPad baseband option are out of date.) This is what any iPhone unlocking shop would do to your phone, and not-so-conscientious ones might not warn you about the downsides.
posted by dreamyshade at 6:31 PM on January 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

unless it was purchased unlocked (and good luck managing that in the US)

I was in the Apple Store at the Mall of America last Sunday charging my iPhone on one of the displays. A fellow walked in and wanted to buy an unlocked iPhone 4. The Apple Store Guy said "OK," and came back a couple minutes later with the phone; ran the guy's credit card for $500 or whatever and he was out of there with his unlocked phone inside of five minutes. So, no big hassle to buy an unlocked iPhone, at least in MN.
posted by chazlarson at 9:55 PM on January 27, 2012

Response by poster: Thanks for all of the input and I ended up NOT attempting to unlock the phone with "Manny". Instead, I'm sticking with ATT's $25 @ month prepaid plan (250 minutes, unlimited texting and no data) and I'll just use the Iphone wifi to get data. Hopefully I can get it officially unlocked at some point and then I'll be able to go anywhere.
posted by victoriab at 7:46 PM on January 30, 2012

AT&T will never allow you to officially unlock an iPhone. Stop upgrading the iPhone via iTunes and with luck someone will eventually figure out an unlock for your 05.16.02 baseband.
posted by Nelson at 9:52 AM on January 31, 2012

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