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You are here: MacNN Forums > Hardware - Troubleshooting and Discussion > iPhone, iPad & iPod > Unlocked iPhone 4S

Unlocked iPhone 4S
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Posting Junkie
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Feb 23, 2012, 05:04 PM
 
So, my wife is a travel advisor, and, as a result, we travel. A lot. Starting next month we will be spending significant amounts of time overseas (5 weeks out of the next 8), and we'll both need to be working during that time. As such, I want to get her an unlocked iPhone 4S (I have a Google Nexus One that I use overseas). However, she's eligible to upgrade her AT&T iPhone 3GS at a reduced price. To be honest, it's probably completely worth the price of buying the unlocked one, but since she needs to get the GSM one anyway, and thus will be sticking with AT&T when at home, it seems like it would make sense to take advantage of the subsidy if possible.

If I get her an iPhone 4S through AT&T will they be able to unlock it for me? Or do I have to pay the full price for an unlocked one from Apple?
     
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Feb 23, 2012, 05:24 PM
 
Before paying extra for unlocked consider how you will use the phone when traveling. I.e., what networks and at what charges? Will WiFi be available? How about prepaid local phone usage?
     
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Feb 23, 2012, 05:26 PM
 
Originally Posted by nonhuman View Post
If I get her an iPhone 4S through AT&T will they be able to unlock it for me? Or do I have to pay the full price for an unlocked one from Apple?
The latter - AT&T refuses to unlock iPhones.

Haven't kept up with the hacking community so don't know if they'd be of any help.
     
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Feb 23, 2012, 05:36 PM
 
Originally Posted by SierraDragon View Post
Before paying extra for unlocked consider how you will use the phone when traveling. I.e., what networks and at what charges? Will WiFi be available? How about prepaid local phone usage?
For the most part we'll be using Telestial global SIM cards with Google Voice allowing us to use our normal phone numbers (Telestial provides a US and UK number for each SIM). Their rates are good, and the extra effort of dealing with a different SIM card for each country hardly seems worth it (she'll be in 6 countries in the next two months). The convenience of having a US number (and therefore being able to use our Google Voice numbers) totally makes it worthwhile.

WiFi likely will be available most of the time, and we plan on using VoIP whenever we need to make calls (which is what we currently do in the US anyway). However simply being in another country and not in front of her/my laptop is not a sufficient reason to miss a call from a client if it comes in.

Hopefully we will barely ever use the voice minutes while abroad, but we need to have the ability if it comes up. Data is a much bigger concern and, as with voice, it simply isn't acceptable to not get or answer a client email just because we're in a different country.

These aren't vacations we're going on (for the most part), they're mostly work trips for her and working trips for me (I get to tag along, but I still have to do my work while I'm there).
     
Posting Junkie
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Feb 23, 2012, 05:37 PM
 
Originally Posted by -Q- View Post
The latter - AT&T refuses to unlock iPhones.

Haven't kept up with the hacking community so don't know if they'd be of any help.
Interesting. I thought that they were required by law to do so, and assumed that they would do so now that Apple allows it.
     
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Feb 23, 2012, 06:26 PM
 
AFAIK, there is no law requiring carriers to unlock phones. In fact, their support site explicitly states they won't:

AT&T Wireless- What is the unlock code for my phone?

Relevant portion quoted below:

iPhones are Not Eligible for Unlocking
iPhone cannot be unlocked, even if you are out of contract. If you are traveling internationally, iPhone is a quad-band phone and will work in many countries across the globe.
     
Posting Junkie
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Feb 23, 2012, 07:15 PM
 
Originally Posted by -Q- View Post
AFAIK, there is no law requiring carriers to unlock phones. In fact, their support site explicitly states they won't:

AT&T Wireless- What is the unlock code for my phone?

Relevant portion quoted below:
I could have sworn there was something...

Oh well, doesn't matter. The full price seems completely worth it, plus it keeps us from having to extend her AT&T contract.
     
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Feb 23, 2012, 08:02 PM
 
Here's a possible solution: Jailbreak and unlock the old 3GS. You can buy a pay-as-you-go SIM in the UK. You keep the 4S for when you need it, but mostly you use the much, much cheaper unlocked 3GS.

I've jailbroken and unlocked an iPhone 1 and a 4, and if you don't have the patience and technical smarts to attempt it, you can still have it unlocked by someone else...

And you definitely don't want the nightmare ATT bills from using the 4 overseas.
     
Posting Junkie
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Feb 23, 2012, 08:12 PM
 
Originally Posted by amazing View Post
Here's a possible solution: Jailbreak and unlock the old 3GS. You can buy a pay-as-you-go SIM in the UK. You keep the 4S for when you need it, but mostly you use the much, much cheaper unlocked 3GS.

I've jailbroken and unlocked an iPhone 1 and a 4, and if you don't have the patience and technical smarts to attempt it, you can still have it unlocked by someone else...

And you definitely don't want the nightmare ATT bills from using the 4 overseas.
That's definitely one option. And for the soonest trip my wife will just be taking my Nexus One with her to Qatar and Mexico (sadly I'm not going on this trip), which will give us a little more time to decide what we're going to do (in the future I'll be using the Nexus One on the trips that I'm on).
     
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Feb 24, 2012, 02:40 AM
 
Unlocking the 3GS will heavily depend on which firmware she has, if she has upgraded the phone past 4.1.3, she is screwed. No firmware beyond that can be jailbroken w/ unlock on the 3GS and you can't downgrade modem firmware.
     
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Feb 24, 2012, 03:16 AM
 
Originally Posted by nonhuman View Post
I could have sworn there was something...
Many first world countries have laws that make unlocking mandatory, and/or require selling unlocked phones.

The US is not one of them.
     
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Feb 24, 2012, 04:03 AM
 
Originally Posted by exca1ibur View Post
Unlocking the 3GS will heavily depend on which firmware she has, if she has upgraded the phone past 4.1.3, she is screwed. No firmware beyond that can be jailbroken w/ unlock on the 3GS and you can't downgrade modem firmware.
That's only slightly accurate. It's going past stock firmware 4.2.1 that causes the issue with non-unlockable [baseband], but the 3GS can always be jailbroken and then updated to the iPad baseband (06.15), which is ultrasn0w unlockable. The problem with that is that there's no going back from it, and you most likely lose GPS functionality.

nonhuman, we've been trying to fight AT&T on this point for quite a while. AT&T's corporate brass has made a perverse decision to completely deny unlocks to only iPhone owners. AT&T is really evil on this issue. The company wormed its way out of iPhone unlocking when it agreed in a class action settlement to unlock all other phones, claiming the iPhone was exclusive to AT&T. That was true at the time but no longer is so; it's too bad they got to slide without the settlement saying that once the iPhone was no longer exclusive the same policy would apply to it. I'll never buy another AT&T subsidized iPhone, and once I get my next iPhone at full price I'll switch immediately to T-Mobile (assuming it still exists).
( Last edited by Big Mac; Feb 24, 2012 at 06:05 AM. )

"The natural progress of things is for liberty to yield and government to gain ground." TJ
     
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Feb 24, 2012, 06:01 AM
 
Originally Posted by Big Mac View Post
That's only slightly accurate. It's going past stock firmware 4.2.1 that causes the issue with non-unlockable firmware, but the 3GS can always be jailbroken and then updated to the iPad baseband (06.15), which is ultrasn0w unlockable. The problem with that is that there's no going back from it, and you most likely lose GPS functionality
correct, however i would extremely suggest against 6.15 baseband for the main reason of being stuck and running a baseband for different hardware.
     
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Feb 24, 2012, 09:41 AM
 
Originally Posted by Big Mac View Post
That's only slightly accurate. It's going past stock firmware 4.2.1 that causes the issue with non-unlockable [baseband], but the 3GS can always be jailbroken and then updated to the iPad baseband (06.15), which is ultrasn0w unlockable. The problem with that is that there's no going back from it, and you most likely lose GPS functionality.

nonhuman, we've been trying to fight AT&T on this point for quite a while. AT&T's corporate brass has made a perverse decision to completely deny unlocks to only iPhone owners. AT&T is really evil on this issue. The company wormed its way out of iPhone unlocking when it agreed in a class action settlement to unlock all other phones, claiming the iPhone was exclusive to AT&T. That was true at the time but no longer is so; it's too bad they got to slide without the settlement saying that once the iPhone was no longer exclusive the same policy would apply to it. I'll never buy another AT&T subsidized iPhone, and once I get my next iPhone at full price I'll switch immediately to T-Mobile (assuming it still exists).
Does the 4S' 3G work on T-Mobile? If not, I'd guess that AT&T still has a seemingly valid argument that the iPhone's exclusive to them as an iPhone you buy for AT&T will never be fully functional on any other network (or usable at all on Sprint or Verizon).

Hopefully the next generation will be an LTE phone, which will make it usable on all four carriers...
     
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Feb 24, 2012, 11:26 AM
 
iPhone 3G does not work with T-Mobile in the US (it works fine on T-Mobile in e.g. Germany - it was one of the first three carriers to get the iPhone outside the US) because it uses a frequency band that the iPhone baseband chip does not support. Whether LTE will work or not depends on which frequency band it will use (didn't they get some frequency bands from AT&T as part of the breakup fee?).
The new Mac Pro has up to 30 MB of cache inside the processor itself. That's more than the HD in my first Mac. Somehow I'm still running out of space.
     
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Feb 24, 2012, 12:57 PM
 
Originally Posted by P View Post
iPhone 3G does not work with T-Mobile in the US (it works fine on T-Mobile in e.g. Germany - it was one of the first three carriers to get the iPhone outside the US) because it uses a frequency band that the iPhone baseband chip does not support. Whether LTE will work or not depends on which frequency band it will use (didn't they get some frequency bands from AT&T as part of the breakup fee?).
That's actually not true. The iPhone 3G will work with T-mobile just fine (my wife did so until we upgraded her to a 4), provided you're ok with EDGE speeds for web/data.

TMO even provides a support document to help get you set up: T-Mobile Support Community: T-Mobile Internet and picture messaging settings for Apple® iPhone®
     
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Feb 24, 2012, 01:28 PM
 
The deal breaker with TM is that the contract costs virtually the same as ATT and you're paying the same for much slower speeds.
     
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Mar 16, 2012, 02:19 PM
 
Originally Posted by amazing View Post
The deal breaker with TM is that the contract costs virtually the same as ATT and you're paying the same for much slower speeds.
I'm currently paying T-Mobile around $60 for unlimited talk, text, and internet on my factory unlocked iPhone 4S. Edge doesn't bother me since I have an 3G iPad if I need the higher speed connection; most of the time I'm using WiFi anyhow.
     
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Mar 16, 2012, 02:53 PM
 
Well, my wife was just in Qatar and is currently in Mexico. I set her up with my Nexus One and a Telestial Passport SIM card so we could test it out. She had issues getting the data to work in Qatar for some reason, but we haven't really had a chance to talk yet as we've both been travelling. It sounds like things are working out much better in Mexico, but I'll have to confirm when she gets home.

Overall the Telestial route seems... adequate for short trips. The prices are better than just roaming with your US plan, but they're far worse than getting a local prepaid SIM (which I did when we spent a week in Germany, it was a fantastic solution). But in a lot of countries you simply can't get a local prepaid SIM as a foreigner (and even in Germany my paperwork for my pre-paid Tchibo SIM may technically have been fraudulent), or it's more trouble than it's worth for a short trip so I think Telestial is probably the best bet (none of their competitors seem any better, at least). For longer trips (I'd say anything over 2 or 3 days) it probably makes sense to go to the trouble of getting a local SIM if possible.

Telestial also sells 'local' SIMs for various countries, but the prices aren't as good as truly local SIMs; but, again, in some places it's really your only option.

One cool thing that Telestial does, though, is rent out satellite equipment. You can get Iridum phones, and even a little satellite uplink box that provides both a phone jack and ethernet jack for combined voice and data anywhere. The satellite voice stuff is actually surprisingly affordable, though the data rates are exorbitant.
     
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Mar 16, 2012, 02:54 PM
 
Originally Posted by Night9Hawk View Post
I'm currently paying T-Mobile around $60 for unlimited talk, text, and internet on my factory unlocked iPhone 4S. Edge doesn't bother me since I have an 3G iPad if I need the higher speed connection; most of the time I'm using WiFi anyhow.
What plan are you on? When I check the website, unlimited talk, text, and data is called Classic Unlimited Plus and costs $80/month
     
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Mar 16, 2012, 07:46 PM
 
Iridium has awful data rates in addition to their pricing.
     
   
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