Sprint Isn’t Sure Whether They Can Unlock My iPhone Or Not

In a few months, Jessica and her fiancé will move to his native London. This wasn’t in her long-term plans when she bought an iPhone 4S and signed a contract with Sprint. Life happens. At least she will be able to keep her newish iPhone after unlocking it and swapping in a UK SIM card…right? Well, no. Maybe. No. Yes, but for $300. Nobody, including Sprint employees, seems to know what Sprint’s actual policy is.

I sent an email off to Sprint and advised them that I
would be cancelling my contract soon and inquired if there would be a
termination fee. Sprint said that there was not, and I moved on.

Last month a friend told me that Sprint had sneakily changed their
policy, and while the change was discussed in iPhone forums Sprint
never formally advised their customers that their iPhones were no
longer unlocked. I contacted Sprint via chat, and everyone seemed to
be incapable of answering my questions. First someone told me that it
was impossible to unlock the iPhone 4s. I advised the Sprint rep that
I knew he was wrong and a quick Google search proved it. I was
immediately transferred to another representative.

I have been bounced around quite a bit, and finally I sent a mass
email to Sprint outlining my issue and difficulties. Its been nearly a
month now and I still have not been able to get a straight answer from
Sprint. I have been told by one person that they can’t unlock my
iPhone, but they will waive my need to return my device if I terminate
my contract early. A different representative informed me that they
can unlock my iPhone, but they won’t because of the age of my plan. I
have been told by a third representative that I could pay $300 and
have my iPhone unlocked.

We recommended that Jessica call the Sprint Consumerist hotline, and she received a letter back from the executive customer service team. Their verdict: no unlock code for you, missy.

Are there less than legal options? Yes, those exist. But when Jessica bought her phone, it could be unlocked. Now it can’t.


Edit Your Comment

  1. consumer says:

    I have been wanting to comment on this for some time now, but comments were off… what a weight off my shoulders to be able to say:

    CDMA iPhones (in fact any CDMA phone) like Sprint and Verizon (and others) use don’t have the ability to swap a sim… as there are no sim cards.

    CDMA devices are serialized at the hardware level. Sprint will only let sprint serial numbers on their network, Verizon only lets verizon serial numbers on their network. Some smaller cdma providers WILL let sprint or verizon serial numbers on their networks.

    If you could take the iphone to another country that has CDMA service (there are a few, but not as many as their are using GSM) and IF that provider in that country would allow a serial number they didn’t sell on their network, then you could use it… as the phone is not what is locked… it’s the networks that are locked (usually).

    • do-it-myself says:

      The pain we go through to take advantage of technology. I was thinking about getting a $50 upgrade to a refurbished iPhone 4S, but I think I’ll keep my crappy Evo Shift that works a bit better on Sprint’s network.

    • jesst says:

      Actually the iPhone 4S is both GSM and CDMA.

    • starfishcb says:

      You couldn’t be more wrong. The CDMA iPhones come with a SIM card installed by the network explicitly to enable international use. The networks themselves tell you about it, e.g. here: http://support.sprint.com/support/article/Learn_more_about_using_a_local_international_SIM_card_for_my_iPhone_4S/case-uh277325-20111013-160029

      Alternatively check out the YouTube videos of people running their Sprint-bought iPhones running on an AT&T SIM card before they pushed out the update which locked them.

    • bewilderedprophet says:

      While you’re partially correct, I should point out that the 4S has both CDMA and GSM capabilities, they used to do separate iPhone models for GSM and CDMA with the iPhone 4,
      but when they released the 4s one of the touted features was that it was a “world phone” meaning it has dual gsm and cdma abilities.

      Sprint “used” to offer unlocking on iPhones for international travel but they stopped offering it for whatever reason.

      Here’s a quote from a press release sprint released in October 2011 on the matter.

      “Sprint’s policy is to have the iPhone 4S SIM locked to our network domestically and internationally. At launch, the International SIM will be unlocked. We do expect a SIM lock to be pushed to the devices shortly after launch. We will then allow existing customers in good standing to unlock the SIM for international use if needed in the future.”

      here’s another quote I found from a usatoday article on phone unlocking.

      “Sprint will unlock the micro-SIM slot on its iPhone 4S for subscribers who have been “in good standing” for 90 days, said Michelle Mermelstein, a spokeswoman with the company. You can then pop in any international SIM — but not one provided by a U.S. carrier. The company enforces this by having the iPhone check the country-code and network-code data stamped into every SIM card”

      This was posted in February this year, so clearly at some point in the last 6 months sprints attitudes to unlocking for customers traveling internationally changed for the worse.