Why to Unlock Your Phone
By far the most common reason to unlock your iPhone is to be able to use it on another network. Cell service providers are notorious for being expensive when it comes to the prices they charge you for calls and network access; think terms and conditions such as “The per-minute rate shall be subject to the list in Appendix C which may be revised from time to time (actually, whenever we feel like it) and may not apply during full moons if we suspect you’re a werewolf.”
Since these companies all offer essentially the same service, and don’t want to drive down the market price, the only way they can compete is through advertising. A big part of this is to make their offering seem cheap in comparison with other providers – but buyer beware! Exceeding a data cap or using the roaming service abroad can cost you a bundle, and this is one way the phone companies make their profits.
Ordinarily, a phone you buy or rent from a specific service provider will be “locked” before you receive it – that is, it will accept only the SIM card of that particular phone company, forcing you to use only their service and pay their rates. Unlocking it allows the iPhone to communicate on any network, letting you save money (especially when traveling).
Step Zero: How Not to Do It
There are a couple of unscrupulous operators out there who will offer to sell “software” that will unlock your phone. This is generally a pretty bad idea: in the first place, this is not a “factory unlock” which registers your phone as unlocked with Apple, but an example of jailbreaking.
The emphasis in “jailbreaking” should be on the “break” part, since this often leads to a phone that doesn’t work properly on any network. It’s also against the end user license agreement you entered into when you bought your iPhone, so they will almost certainly refuse to give you any further help in repairing your device. The same definitely applies when you’ve paid some shady character to actually open up the iPhone and fiddle with electronics he probably doesn’t understand too well.
Step One: Call Your Carrier
What you’ll actually want is called a “factory unlock” or IMEI unlock, which is the only method known to work reliably on the iPhone 7 and 7 plus anyway.. This means that, instead of making potentially fatal changes to the iOS system, your phone’s unique IMEI number is registered with Apple as unlocked and can be used on any supported network in the world.
In theory, this process is as simple as phoning up your carrier and requesting your phone to be unlocked. The problem is: what incentive do they have to make this easy for you? After all, you just happen to have a phone costing several hundred dollars which you can’t use on any of their competitors’ networks. At the least, you can expect several minutes of sales pitches trying to talk you into a new contract. At worst, they can refuse to unlock your phone, citing some more or less obscure clause in the contract you have with them. At a level somewhere in between, they might promise to do it, but drag their feet or just “forget” about you.
Step Two: Contact an IMEI Unlocking Service
Because of the problems mentioned above, a number of companies have sprung up to streamline the factory unlocking process. They do this by having a working relationship with both Apple itself and the various network operators. You can be very sure that some of them are complete scams. Use the same caution you would for any online transaction: check out their website thoroughly (especially where they specify what they can’t or won’t do), run a whois search to see where the domain is registered, and pay attention to their preferred payment methods. Paypal is good, credit cards are okay, while only accepting Western Union is definitely fishy. One example of a company I would use based on their website is “Unlock iPhone Den.”
You will need to provide them with information such as your IMEI number, firmware revision and network provider, but they will guide you through the process of finding these. In general using a respectable company like this does not cost the earth and can save an enormous amount of frustration, not to mention keeping your warranty and your phone intact.