Most people would want to unlock their iPhone because it helps to increase its resell value and you’re also able to use it overseas.
Unlocking your iPhone means removing the restrictions which allows you to switch to another carrier simply by swapping to another SIM card.
If you are keen to unlock your iPhone, it is crucial to know some of the terms used and all other information to make you well aware of the choices available out there to make the process to unlock your iPhone as smooth as possible.
It will also help you to save money and avoid any possible risk or issues.
Types of iPhone Unlocking Terms
There are multiple terms used in the industry for unlocking iPhones:
1. IMEI Unlock
2. MEID Unlock
3. Permanent IMEI Unlock
4. Official iPhone Unlock
5. Official Factory Unlock
Fundamentally, they all mean the same but here are some explanation.
IMEI is short for International Mobile Equipment Identifier and each iPhone has a unique IMEI. You can find the IMEI of your iPhone under Settings > General > About. It is also known as MEID or ESN.
The word permanent here means the unlock is done on the Apple database so once the iPhone is unlocked, it will remain unlocked forever.
It is called official because the unlock is done ‘officially’ on the Apple database.
Some countries have laws which are not allowing carriers to lock the iPhones, so the iPhones which are made for certain countries or markets are already unlocked right at the moment when they come out from the factory.
What is the Unlocking Process?
The unlocking process is done remotely.
On the Apple database, there are two database fields which define whether the iPhone is locked or unlocked. They are:
Next Tether Activation Policy
Factory (default) SIM Lock Status
Each time you do a full restore or changing the SIM card on your iPhone, you are required to activate it. Your iPhone will connect to Apple’s database, do a cross match to check the activation policy and returns the status to iTunes or your iPhone.
If the next tether activation policy says that it’s multimode-unlock (you can do a check here if you wish to know), your iPhone will be unlocked automatically once you have done a full restore on iTunes or upon changing a different SIM card.
Factory (default) SIM Lock Status is explained earlier – the iPhone is already set as unlocked when it came out from the factory.
What’s the Price to Unlock iPhone?
The price to unlock your iPhone depends on which country or carrier the iPhone is locked to. Some carriers do provide the unlocking service at no cost, for as long as you fulfil the criteria set by the carrier.
For instance, AT&T will unlock your iPhone for free based on the following:
Customer’s account must be in good standing, their device cannot be associated with a current and active term commitment on an AT&T customer account, and they need to have fulfilled their contract term, upgraded under one of our upgrade policies or paid an early termination fee.
This can be done simply by reaching out to the customer support directly. The instructions that we wrote here a few years ago should still be applicable and valid.
The first few models were prone to hardware and software exploits. Hackers were able to unlock the iPhone simply by running a software to first ‘jailbreak’ the iPhone and then patch it with a hacked software to unlock the iPhone.
The iPhone 4 was the last model that was exploitable via this method.
If you’re not eligible for a free unlock, your only option is to engage with an unlocking service provider to get your iPhone unlocked safely and remotely.
As there are different types of US carrier locked iPhones, each one has different time-frame and price to get the iPhone unlocked. I will go through each one.
How about Blacklisted iPhone?
Blacklisting of iPhone and smartphones in the USA started around 4 years ago as part of the government’s effort to reduce phone thefts.
This has been done in Europe, Australia and Japan much earlier.
Blacklisted iPhone is also known as iPhone with Bad IMEI, Bad ESN, Blocked IMEI, Blocked ESN and the common terms used to remove it from blacklist is blacklist removal, ESN cleaning, ESN clearing, unbarring etc.
AT&T was the first carrier to introduce the iPhone. Unlocking the AT&T iPhone used to be the biggest pain that hackers like GeoHot had to resort to unlocking his first iPhone by hacking the hardware.
It was until around 4 years ago when it was possible to unlock the AT&T iPhone remotely via the IMEI unlock method. When the service first started or offered, the cost was around US$150 and above.
Nowadays, unlocking service providers use the term ‘success rate’ rated in percentage when unlocking AT&T iPhones. There is no direct explanation why certain services have different success rates.
The rule of thumb is that the higher the cost to unlock, the higher the success rate to unlock an AT&T iPhone.
There are five different types of pricing-tiers to unlock any AT&T iPhone:
(i) Clean AT&T iPhone
This simply means your AT&T account is in good standing, your device is not associated with a current and active term commitment on an AT&T account, you have fulfilled their contract term, you have upgraded under their upgrade policies or paid an early termination fee.
Exactly what was explained earlier. This unlock can be done at almost no cost, and unlocking service provider can unlock it within 12-24 hours.
(ii) In-Contract AT&T iPhone
Normally, AT&T will not unlock the iPhone if it’s still under contract. Using the IMEI unlocking service provider, it can be unlocked if it’s under contract. However, the current success rate for this service is around 30-60%.
(iii) AT&T iPhone with Unpaid Bills
This is very similar to the unlock which is also under contract but the account has outstanding balance. This device usually gets blocked on AT&T only. Once it’s unlocked, you can switch carrier.
(iv) AT&T iPhone with Active Line
iPhone with Active Line means the device is activated with another customer’s account. There is an unlock available for this which is much cheaper than premium service (explained below). The success rate is around 80-90%.
(v) AT&T iPhone Fraud
There have been instances when devices are purchased using fraud identity or payment. This happens occasionally and we do get this unlocking request. Buyers who unknowingly purchased used iPhone may encounter this type of status.
It’s still possible to unlock it at affordable price, at an around 80-90% success.
(vi) AT&T iPhone that is Lost/Missing/Stolen
This method is also called the premium service because it allows unlocking of the device even if it blacklisted or has a bad IMEI.
It will unlock the AT&T iPhone even if the device has all problems stated above. Since it’s a premium service, it will be charged at premium price close to $100 for a typical remote unlocking service provider.
The only downside is that once it has been blacklisted by AT&T, it can’t be used on any other network.
It will only work outside of USA. However, do note that some countries do take the blacklist information and will block the device from carrier’s network.
T-Mobile iPhone X and all earlier models
T-Mobile iPhone is another carrier which used to be easy to be unlocked. However since late last year, unlocking service providers are having a tough time to unlock as completion time got extended.
Essentially there are only two types of unlock available for T-Mobile as described below.
(i) Clean T-Mobile iPhone
Just like the AT&T iPhone, clean IMEI means the device is not blocked or blacklisted in T-Mobile’s database. The good thing is that T-Mobile provides free access for you to check the status of your T-Mobile iPhone at no cost.
If you have an iPhone either from Virgin or Boost, the guide below can be used to unlock your iPhone.
(i) Unlocking for Sprint iPhone with Clean Status
This is the simplest and cheapest available option to unlock your Sprint iPhone. Clean status means the iPhone has clean record or in other words clean ESN. It also means the iPhone has good standing on the Sprint database and not blacklisted.
If you run a check on a clean Sprint iPhone on the Sprint database, it will return the following result:
Model: IPH 6S PLUS ROSE 16GB SGL
Model Number: IP6SP16GBRS1
Manufacturer: APPLE, INC
BLACKLIST STATUS: CLEAN (FAILED DEACTIVATION)
If you notice the Blacklist Status shows that it’s clean.
Just like doing the check for T-Mobile, simply enter the 14 (not 15) digit IMEI of your Verizon iPhone.
If the message says you can’t activate the device at this time, it means the device is blocked on all US network.
Otherwise, it will show that it’s ready for activation or the status is clean.
If for any reason it’s blocked, it can also be cleaned or removed from blacklist for as long as the status is not fraud.
The recent check made available by Apple on its database provides additional info such as the one shown below in bold:
Model: IPHONE 6 PLUS GOLD 16GB
Estimated Purchase Date: 04.06.2015
Coverage: OUT OF WARRANTY (NO COVERAGE)
Sold To: VERIZON WIRELESS – D239301
Initial Activation Policy ID: 2023
Initial Activation Policy Details: US VERIZON LTE MM N61/N56/N51/N48/N42 ACTIVATION POLICY
Purchase Country: UNITED STATES
Factory (default) SIM Lock Status: UNLOCKED
Blacklist Status: CLEAN Blacklisted By: VERIZON WIRELESS Blacklisted On: 2016-09-15 14:12:27.0 Blacklisted Country: UNITED STATES Removed By: VERIZON WIRELESS Removed On: 2016-09-19 10:16:05.0 Removed Country: UNITED STATES
The additional information shows if the device was blacklisted before, and whether the blacklist was removed.
How to Restore a Blacklisted iPhone on iTunes?
This is quite a common question asked by people who unknowingly purchased a blacklisted iPhone.
As explained earlier, the blacklisting of smartphones are done on the carrier database so restoring it on iTunes won’t make any difference.
You may be able to restore it, activate it as long as there’s no iCloud activation lock enabled. Once you try to connect to carrier’s network, you will only see ‘No Service’ because the IMEI is blacklisted.
Does Jailbreaking Remove the Blacklist for iPhone?
Jailbreaking is a method developed by hackers to remove the security restrictions set by Apple in iOS. It allows you to install additional plugins or tweaks for your iPhone’s software.
Since the blacklist is done on the carrier database, jailbreaking doesn’t resolve the issue of blacklisted iPhone, unless if there’s a way for the jailbreak to mask the IMEI or alter the IMEI to something else.
A few years ago, iOS hacker called MuscleNerd claimed that he was able to change the IMEI of an iPhone.
However, due to legality, he didn’t release the hack.
In some older smartphones, flashing the hardware would remove the blacklist. Unfortunately, this doesn’t work for iPhones.
Too Technical? What’s the Easiest Way to Unlock iPhone?
If the information above is too overwhelming, do consider using a paid service that allows you to unlock your iPhone without having to deal with technical knowledge. Head to our online Store and price only starts at US$19.99.
You made it to the end of this article. In conclusion, the process to unlock your iPhone can be confusing especially if you’re new to this.
However, if you read the article properly, you should have a better understanding of how it gets done. Although iPhone X is mentioned throughout the article, this guide is applicable on most iPhone models.
Please do be careful before buying any used device. Always check it first using the free checkers available.
If you need any help, please do get in touch with us and we’ll be happy to guide you with the process.
Last but not least, if you find this article helpful, please share it on your social media.