Here’s how to unlock your phone under the new rules

New rules governing U.S. wireless carriers went into full effect on Wednesday, although many carriers had been following the guidelines for nearly a year. These new rules are part of a voluntary “consumer code for wireless service” administered by CTIA, the main wireless trade association. All four big carriers — including AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile, and Sprint — have agreed to them, along with several smaller pre-paid carriers.

There’s a lot of consumer-friendly policies included in the consumer code, including new ground rules for unlocking your smartphone or tablet. Carriers in the United States lock the SIM slots on the devices they sell so you can’t take them over to a competing carrier for a better deal for service. But the new consumer code requires them to unlock devices on request and sets out clear rules for when the carriers have to comply.

How do I unlock my phone if I have AT&T, T-Mobile, Verizon or Sprint?

Users often want to unlock their phone when they want to bring their device to another wireless service provider. The process is fairly straightforward, although sometimes it can be frustrating to deal with a bureaucratic system when you simply want a setting changed on a device you own.

The unlocking process varies between carriers. Generally, if you have an eligible phone or tablet, you need to get in touch with the carrier that’s locked the device, and request an unlock.

For locked AT&T phones you’ll want to visit this web form. Full documentation is available here.

For Verizon devices you’ll want to call 1-800-711-8300 and ask for a SIM unlock. Full documentation is available here.

Sprint phones can be unlocked by calling 1-888-211-4727. You can also request an unlock through a web chat. Full documentation is available here.

T-Mobile customers can unlock their devices by calling 1-877-746-0909. You can also request an unlock through a web chat. Full documentation here.

Here’s more information on how to unlock your phone on the big four U.S. carriers, including how to verify that your device is eligible, caveats in the fine print, and alternative carriers you can bring your device to. The FCC also has useful information about the process.

When can I unlock my phone if I purchased it with a contract?

As soon as you complete your service contract.

Your device is most likely considered a “postpaid” device if you paid around $200 for it as part of a two-year contract or used an upgrade payment plan like AT&T Next. According to the new policy, carriers are required to unlock devices after the customer finishes his or her contract or completes a device payment plan. So the day after you finish your 24-month agreement, or you fully pay off your phone, you can unlock your device and take it to another carrier.

When can I unlock my pre-paid phone?

One year after purchasing your device.

Although prepaid devices aren’t subsidized by a carrier, wireless companies still often provide deals on low-cost handsets which you buy up front, assuming that you will be buying prepaid minutes and data. Under the new agreement, the carrier you purchased your handset from has to unlock the device one year after you first activate it.

Should I expect to pay for unlocking services?

No.

According to the FCC, “service providers may not charge customers and former customers additional fees to unlock a device if it is eligible to be unlocked.” While unofficial — and legally protected — unlocking kiosks in malls and shopping centers might charge a fee to unlock a phone, your carrier should not if you are or were a customer.

What if I have a locked device, but I’m not a customer with the carrier the phone is locked to?

Then you might be charged a fee. The agreement says that carriers can charge a “reasonable” fee to unlock devices for consumers who were never their customers, but should ultimately unlock the device if it’s eligible. I’ve asked the carriers what they are charging, and will update this post as I get answers.

How long does it take to unlock a device?

Unfortunately, if you’re not on Sprint, you’ll need to personally request an unlock for your phone to get the process started. But the good news is that carriers are required to inform you that your device is eligible for unlocking, most likely on your bill. (Newer phones from Sprint will see their SIM slots automatically unlock when they are eligible.) Carriers have two days after receiving an unlock request to get back to the customer.

And tablets are included too, right?

Yes. Tablets are included in these new policies. If you buy an LTE iPad from the Apple Store, it will be unlocked, but tablets purchased from your carrier store — like the nearly-free Alcatel tablet T-Mobile sells — will be locked, and tablets can be treated as a postpaid device, depending on the specific terms and agreements you agreed to when you purchased your tablet.

Apple Begins Selling Contract-Free iPhones at Retail Stores

iphone3Gretail

First it was AT&T (s att) selling iPhones off-contract, which suggested a stock clear-out, and now it’s Apple (s appl), which all but confirms the sell-off.

Apple began selling contract-free iPhones at their brick-and-mortar retail locations on Thursday, a fact reported by AppleInsider and confirmed by Apple’s flagship Fifth Avenue store in New York, via CNNMoney.com. Buying from Apple apparently carries less restrictions than buying from AT&T, but the phone is still technically locked to the only official U.S. iPhone carrier.
Pricing is also still the same as what we’ve seen from AT&T. The entry-level 8GB model will cost you $599, while the 16GB version will set you back $699. At those prices, the iPhone costs more than most netbooks, but to some, the additional freedom the extra $400 buys is worth the price of admission. According to reports, customers will be able to purchase unlimited numbers of iPhones from Apple stores, and won’t have to be AT&T customers to get one. If Apple isn’t actively encouraging unlocking, they know that it’s going to happen, and they’re clearly turning a blind eye in the interest of moving stock.
There’s no word on whether this deal will come to other international stores, or when they’ll actually be stocked at Apple retail locations. It’s unclear how many people will go for this, since that’s an awful lot of money to part with for a product that’s soon to become previous generation technology. Personally, I’m just hoping it drives down the price of the used iPhone market so that I can pick up an unlocked 8GB for less than $400 via craigslist.

iPhone 3G Unlock Finally (Almost) Here

This time around, it took a little longer, but the iPhone 3G has finally been unlocked, thanks to the efforts of the hardworking iPhone Dev Team, makers of the Pwnage Tool, which is used for jailbreaking Apple’s handhelds.

The Dev Team reports successful unlocking, using their oddly codenamed “yellowsn0w,” but they’ve yet to release it to the public. Now, they’re working on repackaging it in user-friendly form, like the Pwnage Tool, so that your average end-user won’t have much trouble tossing off their carrier oppressors.
Read More about iPhone 3G Unlock Finally (Almost) Here

Unlocked iPhone Users Beware

iPhoneIt appears that Apple may have been telling the truth about unlocked iPhones and the software update not playing nice together. Jonathan Seff over at iPhone Central shares his tale – in which even a new SIM card couldn’t resurrect is iBrick. Even though some Apple Geniuses may be quietly unbricking iPhones, I have to say I still don’t think it’s worth it. I’d ride out my contract and then pull the trigger (unless you’re with Sprint – then I can totally understand wanting to get out).
What about you TAB readers? Has anyone successfully updated with an unlocked iPhone? Here’s your opportunity to brag!