Whether you're planning to leave AT&T for a low-cost carrier on the same network - or to switch to another of the big four carriers - you will need to get your phone unlocked.
This guide will cover AT&T's requirements, the information you'll need to have ready, how their request form works, and an insight into the low-cost carriers who could help you make major savings on your monthly phone bill.
Unlocking Your Phone
Unlocking your AT&T phone is a straightforward process, just requiring completion of an online request form. Before that though, you'll need to fulfill the following requirements from AT&T:
- The phone must be unlocked.
- The AT&T device isn't reported lost or stolen or involved with fraud.
- You must either complete your contract or installment plan or pay off an installment plan early.
- You must wait 14 days to unlock your old device if you've upgraded early.
- Your service must be active for at least 60 days with no past due or unpaid balances.
- AT&T Prepaid devices must have at least six months of active service.
Info You'll Need When You Talk to AT&T
If you fulfill AT&T's requirements, then you'll need to the following information in order to submit your unlock request form:
- Your IMEI number. If you do not have it, you can either refer to the phone's Settings option (where you'll find the number after reaching Settings is dependent on the type of phone and its OS), you can dial *#06# on your phone, which will reveal 14 or 15 digits onscreen, or check underneath the battery cover or - in the case of some iPhones - on the back of the phone.
- The account number tied to the phone.
- The account password or the last four digits of the account holder's social security number.
- The device's phone number.
- Deployment papers, if you are in the military and need to request an unlock for deployment reasons.
Submitting the Unlock Request Form
Fortunately, you do not need to contact AT&T customer service. Instead, you can just follow these steps in order to unlock your phone:
- Visit AT&T's unlock request page: att.com/deviceunlock
- Select Unlock a Device
- Read the eligibility requirements
- Fill in the requested information and submit the form
- You'll then receive a confirmation email with the unlock request number
- Click on the link in the email within 24 hours of receipt to confirm the unlock request
- AT&T will either reject or approve of the request within two business days
Bring Your Own Phone
Because AT&T and T-Mobile operate with the same GSM radio technology, you should have no issue in switching to the T-Mobile network. Just insert your new T-Mobile SIM card and you should have no problems.
The other two major networks - Verizon Wireless and Sprint - use the CDMA radio system. Despite that, it may still be possible to use your AT&T 4G LTE phone on Verizon's LTE network because they both run on the same spectrum. You'll have to check your phone's compatibility with your proposed new carrier beforehand, however.
Sprint is a CDMA carrier that relies on a different radio band compared to T-Mobile, Verizon, and AT&T, so AT&T's devices will be very finicky with Sprint's network. It is important to check with your new carrier if your phone will support Sprint's network.
If you find any of that too much hassle - or if you are happy with AT&T's coverage but just don't like their prices, then check out an AT&T MVNO (see below). You know your AT&T phone will be compatible and you can make major savings.
Now that your AT&T phone is unlocked, you should consider switching to a smaller carrier (otherwise known as a Mobile Virtual Network Operator, or MVNO for short). Companies such as Red Pocket and Pure Talk lease coverage from AT&T at wholesale prices and sell that coverage on to you at very competitive rates.
These AT&T MVNOs offer impressive advantages:
- Better prices: With lower overheads and much smaller advertising budgets than AT&T, ROK Mobile and Red Pocket are able to sell you their services at much lower prices.
- Customized plans: The vast majority of customers do not need unlimited data - in fact, the average mobile customer only consumes about 3GB of data a month! You wouldn't pay a cable company for 100 channels if you only watch 20 of them, so why pay for more data than you need? MVNOs let you pay for what you need. Some even offer to build your own plans, giving you even more freedom.
- Absolute freedom: There are no contracts or credit checks with AT&T MVNOs. All low-cost carriers, in fact, offer prepaid plans, so if you find yourself dissatisfied with the service, then you can leave at any time you wish.
- BYOP: You can bring your own phone or bring your own device (BYOD) to an AT&T MVNO, so you can save more money that would otherwise be funneled into an expensive handset upfront or through monthly device payments. Best of all, you can keep your phone number.