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Each year when a New iPhone rolls out, I have upgraded. Of course that means signing on for another 2 year contract and I agree to the terms and all is good. However, one thing that has always bugged me is what if you don't upgrade? Shouldn't you then be able to head into an AT&T store and have your iPhone "officially" unlocked after the 2 year commitment has been satisfied. This is certainly not uncommon for users to want the flexibility of using different SIM cards when they travel abroad or use pre-paid SIM cards when it makes sense to do so. Also you can do it with other AT&T phones. Alas, the iPhone is different. We agreed to this when we signed on. Your iPhone is forever (at least for 5 years) locked to AT&T even after you've paid for it. This is the case even if you walk in to an AT&T/Apple store and drop $500-$600 for a contract free version! While you're under no obligation to have a contract and can cancel your service whenever you like, your device is still locked to AT&T! Yet this is not the case in many other countries. For example, in both Canada and the UK, you can pay full price for an iPhone 4 and it will be UNLOCKED out of the box. Drop in any carriers MicroSIM card and away you go. It will be great when the day comes that the iPhone is on more than one carrier here in the US. Hopefully we'll see the end to this monopolistic practice. At least the good news is we're nearing the end of this 5 Year Deal. Right? Please say "yes". 🙂

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  • While the press has widely reported that there was a 5-year deal, neither Apple nor AT&T has ever confirmed that.

    But I’ve noticed that AT&T is being especially generous this year in letting iPhone users upgrade, even if they’re nowhere near the 2-year point.

    Why are they being so nice? I suspect it’s because the exclusivity is coming to an end, and AT&T wants to lock these folks in for another 2 years before they realize they’ll soon have a choice of carriers.

  • Steven,
    seems like it was pretty confirmed here:
    http://www.engadget.com/2010/05/10/confirmed-apple-and-atandt-signed-five-year-iphone-exclusivity-de/

    “The duration of the exclusive Apple-[AT&T] agreement was not ‘secret’ either. The [plaintiff] quotes a May 21, 2007 USA Today article – published over a month before the iPhone’s release – stating, “AT&T has exclusive U.S. distribution rights for five years-an eternity in the go-go cellphone world.”

    “[T]here was widespread disclosure of [AT&T’s] five-year exclusivity and no suggestion by Apple or anyone else that iPhones would become unlocked after two years… Moreover, it is sheer speculation – and illogical – that failing to disclose the five-year exclusivity term would produce monopoly power…”

    Anything is subject to change, but court records are pointing to 5 years (at least initially).

  • Loci

    I fully agree with you Terry.

    I am longtime ATT customer; Cingular before that and Bellsouth before that. While ATT Wireless seems to get an endless ration of public thrashings about horrible service and pricing, my experience is rather the opposite.

    Whenever I have had issues, I have ALWAYS been able to have a conversation with them, almost invariably involving compromise on their part. They have unlocked phones, send me replacement devices for what turned out to be just poorly made devices, etc.

    I had horrifying experiences with Sprint and T-Mobile in the past. Conversing with both of those firms was insane, like bargaining with Darth Vader over who is buying lunch. Perhaps they are better now? I don’t know.

    I do not live in a high-density population area. While voice and data service is not perfect, I have also ‘been around the block’ enough times and understand packet-switching networking enough to know that my service has actually been impressive for a network that has added probably 20 million packet-switching iPhone radios over the last few years alone; not even accounting for other device brands.

    My life travels take me to Colombia, sometimes. Thanks to some ‘dev-teams’ who shall remain nameless, I have been able to personally modify my iPhone such that I can use it on different GSM networks there, something that has value for me. I need my email, contacts, photos, and mobile safari more when I travel than when I am at home in the US.

    When I asked ATT Wireless about unlocking, the reps I spoke to (and I did elevate the question somewhat) asserted that ATT is/was willing to unlock my iPhone but Apple is not. Where the truth and contract details lay, I can only speculate.

    This is where Colombia enters again. Colombia’s Comcel and MoviStar , while large for Colombia, are not power-bargaining firms; yet they are able to unlock iPhones for customers. As users, perhaps we need to pressure Apple and ATT to explain this chart:
    http://support.apple.com/kb/ht1937

    Is ATT actually willing to unlock my iPhones? Is Apple the hangup? I know ATT would unlock my new iPhone on day of my contract as they have done it with more expensive Treo’s and some piece of garbage that was running Windows mobile several years ago; ATT did it for me several times. It is not rocket science on their part to use that lever to keep customers.

    I did not buy an IPhone 4; perhaps I will. I am quite pleased with my 3GS running iOS4 at the moment; but my world travels are likely to increase and the desire for ‘factory unlocked’ is certainly at play in the ‘delay’ decision. I suspect I am not alone.

    Forgive the rambling post; I was trying to give background details.

    I would very, very much like to know why my iPhones cannot be unlocked.

  • Yacko

    5 years from when? July 2007? It is unlikely that the contract is so simple that it gives exclusivity for a fixed period of time. Odds favor that there are conditions to be met and clauses that modify the length of the contract. So we do not really have the inside info on the contract length and it could easily end sooner than the 5 year period. I am also like the other poster, suspicious of the liberal AT&T policy as regards re-upping with them.

  • Jim H.

    How does unlocking help? As far as I know only Sprint and AT&T use the technology in the current family of iPhones. So unlocking doubles your phone companies…. if Sprint services your area.

    Until the next gen of Telco wireless comes out and everyone moves to 4G I don’t understand how much can change.

    • As I stated, unlocking helps when traveling abroad. CDMA is only prevalent here in the US. The rest of the world (and T-Mobile here) are on GSM. Having an unlocked, out of contract iPhone means sticking a local SIM card in wherever you go for a much cheaper rate than int’l roaming.

  • Donna

    Amen!

  • Michael

    Writing you from Costa Rica. We took an old BB Curve down here. We spent about a day trying to get the phone to work with a local sim card. Blocked by ATT.
    We have been using Skype on a laptop and we tried to load Skype on my BB Bold. Blocked by ATT.
    The IPhone will accept the program, and we can call anywhere for .024 cents per minute.
    The phone companies understand the threat of Skype. That is the bottom line regarding ATT and a segment of the service they refuse to provide.

  • EB

    Jim H.
    Only AT&T uses the GSM with the same 3g frequency as the iPhone. T-Mobile, the only other large GSM carrier in the USA uses a different spectrum for 3g, so you are correct, in the USA you can only use it on AT&T.
    But, as been repeatedly stated her, and my case, we want to be able to use our phone ABROAD with cheap, readily available SIM cards you can get at the airport as soon as you land. My brother was researching getting himself online in Europe. Everywhere he looked he was facing charges of $15 PER MB! (T-mobile, etc). or $250 for 200 MB (Verizon, AT&T). When he landed he bought a card for his laptop for €30 with a fee of €15 per GB (yes, per GB, not per MB).

    If he had an unlocked phone he could have just used his existing hardware with tethering.

    Bottom line is this is a real issue. Even more ridiculous in the USA because it isn’t as if we even HAVE a choice in carriers in the USA – we just want to be able to take it abroad with us and not pay AT&T up the ass (we have all heard stories of the guy who comes back from Europe having forgotten to turn data roaming and 15 minute email intervals off, only to find a $3000 bill).

    This issue really requires some pressure from the Government. Instead of them pressuring Apple/AT&T to open the phone to other carriers, they should be pushing them to unlock the phone when your 2 year contract is up, or if you pay to early terminate your contract. This need to be legislated.

  • I wonder if the new ruling by the Library of Congress means that iPhone users are entitled to having their iPhones unlocked by AT&T after honoring their two year contract.

    If not, I suspect that it won’t be long before we see another class action lawsuit like the one that required ATT to unlock every other phone (except iPhone) sold since March 12, 1999.

  • Bbh

    It would be nice if people suggesting that you “cannot” use the iPhone on any thing other than AT&T knew what they were talking about. You can’t use the iPhone on T Mobiles’ 3G network because of frequency differences, but YOU CAN use it on their EDGE network quite satisfactorily.

    The telephone portion works just fine, and when I need data, I use wifi. T Mobile works just fine for me.