What's a reliable way to unlock an iPhone 4 myself?
December 9, 2013 4:57 AM   Subscribe

I know about the AT&T device unlock form, but is there a reliable way to unlock an iPhone 4 myself without waiting for AT&T to respond? Although it is an AT&T phone, it has been a few years since we've been AT&T customers, so the PIN I entered in the form may not be correct, and this is a time-sensitive matter.

My wife's phone is an AT&T iPhone 4. We left AT&T for Straight Talk. It's an AT&T reseller, so there was no need to unlock, and I forgot all about that. We just ended our Straight Talk service and are now on T-Mobile prepaid, but I just realized the phone needs to be unlocked for that to work. So, she's without cell service.

I filled out AT&T's unlock form, but I have no idea if the PIN I gave them is right. This post says that AT&T often fulfills these requests in under an hour, but I still haven't heard anything. I tried calling their customer service number, but the system hangs up on me after I give them a phone number that's not currently an AT&T number and after I just keep hitting 0.

So, if I can do this without waiting "7 business days" as their request status checker asks me to do, I would like to. I remember the varioous *sn0ws, but those are for jailbreaking, and we'd like to alter the phone as little as possible. Just the unlock, if possible.
posted by ignignokt to Technology (14 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
You can't unlock an iphone yourself without jailbreaking.
posted by Another Fine Product From The Nonsense Factory at 5:49 AM on December 9, 2013

I realize it's 'time sensitive' but just how long has it been since you requested the unlock? One hour? 5 hours? A day? 3 Days?

I'm on T-Mobile now, with my iPhone 4s and I know it definitely took less than 24 hours for them to honor my unlock request. The main thing is that your contract with AT&T needs to be completed before they will unlock.

If it's been less than 24 hours, you may need to let nature take its course.
If it's been longer than that, call a rep, be nice, ask if they can check on the status for you, see what happens.
posted by John Kennedy Toole Box at 6:05 AM on December 9, 2013

Be aware that the "AT&T Account Passcode" requested on the unlock form is not the password for your online AT&T account. It's an optional PIN that you may have set up to protect access to your account when calling in to AT&T support. There's a good chance you don't have an AT&T account passcode, unless you specifically remember setting one up.
posted by BurntHombre at 6:37 AM on December 9, 2013

Best answer: Have you gone to an Apple and/or AT&T store in person? The latter are mostly populated by salespeople rather than actual experts, but they may be able to find a phone number to bump you up.
posted by Etrigan at 6:41 AM on December 9, 2013

Best answer: Jailbreaking and unlocking are two different things. You won't be able to do an IMEI unlock by yourself.

If you are not getting a prompt response by phone or internet, I agree with Etrigan's recommendation to unlock in your local AT&T store. Showing up in person goes a long way for these sorts of issues.

FWIW, I unlocked my AT&T iPhone on eBay for about $3 or so. It took about 24 hours.
posted by Tanizaki at 6:51 AM on December 9, 2013

AT&T took 3 hours to unlock my iPhone 4 after I used the online form. They said it would take up to 7 business days. There was a problem: they unlocked the original phone I bought and not the warranty replacement I had been using. Via email they said it might take a week to sort out but they unlocked it an hour later.
posted by birdherder at 7:15 AM on December 9, 2013

For time-sensitive unlocking, I've had the best luck with AT&T by using live chat on their site. Had my phone unlocked in under an hour. If you get pushback from their first-line representative, ask the person to transfer you to a tech support person. They are much quicker and knowledgeable in these kinds of matters.
posted by homesickness at 9:56 AM on December 9, 2013

Best answer: I agree with Etrigan's recommendation to unlock in your local AT&T store. Showing up in person goes a long way for these sorts of issues.

I went in to an AT&T store 1 week ago to do this for a 4S and was told they could not unlock in the store. It has to be done online or via phone. I was unable to do it online. Via phone, I was told they needed to set-up some sort of special support ticket and that it would take up to 7 days to hear back. I received an e-mail a couple of hours later with instructions to unlock (which just involved restoring via iTunes).
posted by probablysteve at 10:24 AM on December 9, 2013

I'm sure you've considered it, but maybe get a $20 tmobile prepaid phone to provide cell service for the next couple days while you wait for the unlock email from AT&T?

I just switched from AT&T to tmobile, unlocking three iPhones on the way out, and one of them took a few days. The other two were within hours.

I have also unlocked an iPhone via ebay for $4 or so, but when I went to do the same thing for these, I saw that the ebay options for unlocking AT&T iPhones are all now about $120.
posted by chazlarson at 12:11 PM on December 9, 2013

Response by poster: Well, it's been over 24 hours since I've made my request, and since I can't seem to get to them on the phone or through live chat without having an active account, I guess I'll stop by the AT&T store tomorrow. If they can't unlock it, I guess that's a good time to pick up a cheap temporary phone and put the SIM card into that.

Thanks for your help so far, guys! I welcome any additional advice as well.
posted by ignignokt at 8:24 PM on December 9, 2013

Try calling the AT&T international customer service number: +1 (916) 843-4685. That should get you through to a person instead of an automated system that won't recognize the number.
posted by Johnny Wallflower at 9:23 PM on December 9, 2013

Best answer: I sat around for quite a while waiting for a response to my request to unlock an AT&T iPhone 4. In desperation I set it to restore via iTunes and got a message congratulating me on successfully unlocking the phone. Worth a go.
posted by firstdrop at 8:07 AM on December 10, 2013

Response by poster: I stopped by the AT&T Store today, and the rep just called AT&T support at a different number (sorry, don't remember what it was) and hit 0 a million times. I talked to someone that tried to unlock the phone, but I did not have my wife's full SSN, so she was not able to find an unlock code for it and said she'd call me later when I had it.

I just got home and plugged the phone into iTunes, and it said it could not activate, then seconds later, it was up and running on the T-Mobile SIM. I didn't get a message about unlocking, but it seems something similar to what firstdrop experienced happened. Maybe the locking is somehow time-bound? Anyone know if this is the case? Because I certainly did not enter an unlock code, nor did anyone touch the phone other than me today.

Thanks again for all your help, guys, and I guess people in the future should try just plugging into iTunes first.
posted by ignignokt at 4:14 PM on December 10, 2013

For future searchers, the email you'll get from AT&T will tell you to restore the phone in iTunes. There's no "unlock code" on iPhones. Someone flips a bit on a server somewhere, and iTunes picks that up.
Request number: 9999999
. . .
To complete the unlock, simply
1. Open iTunes on your Mac or PC and verify that you have Internet connectivity.
2. Ensure a SIM card is inserted into your iPhone.
3. Connect your iPhone using the dock connector to USB cable that came with your iPhone.
4. Backup and restore your iPhone using iTunes. For information on backup and restore, please visit http://support.apple.com/kb/HT1414.
5. After restoring, your iPhone will be unlocked.
. . .

AT&T Customer Care Team
posted by chazlarson at 2:08 PM on December 11, 2013

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