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AT&T to allow unlocking of out-of-contract iPhones

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Beginning this Sunday, AT&T will let some customers unlock their iPhones, thus allowing them to use another carrier's service – provided, of course, that the carrier's network is compatible with the newly unlocked iPhone.

An older GSM-only AT&T phone would not be able to hop aboard Verzon's CDMA network, for example. When the phone and carrier network are compatible, however, the switch can be made by replacing the micro-SIM card in an iPhone 4 or 4S, or the larger SIM card in earlier iPhones.

An AT&T spokesman confirmed to The Reg that the company's official statement is as follows:

"Beginning Sunday, April 8, we will offer qualifying customers the ability to unlock their AT&T iPhones. The only requirements are that a 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."

You'll notice a few caveats sprinkled into that statement. Most obviously, the AT&T customer needs to have completed their two-year contract before their phone can be released from bondage. A customer must also be "in good standing", which the AT&T spokesman told us simply means that their bills need to be up-to-date.

What the spokesman couldn't clarify for us, however, is the status of phones in family plans if one or more phones in that plan are still in their two-year contract and others aren't. He suggested that such users simply contact their sales reps for more information.

Despite that one niggling uncertainty, the ability to unlock an out-of-contract phone is good news – and potentially a competitive advantage for AT&T over Verizon, Sprint, and (someday?) T-Mobile.

In addition, it's simply The Right Thing to Do™. ®

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