Carrier unlock - UPDATE - solution found and lesson learned

My U.S. carrier AT&T has apparently erroneously placed a carrier lock on my iPhone Xs and has not been able to unlock the iphone after 9 days. The iPhone was purchased directly from Apple at full price in 2018 as an unlocked, carrier-independent device with no installment payment plan or other encumbrance. The iPhone needs to free from a carrier lock in order to send to Apple as a trade-in for purchase of a new iPhone 14 Pro that I have already received.

I have gone through AT&T’s online procedure for carrier unlock; this request was denied after 4 days. The reason given was “account information does not match our records”. I double-checked the information entered (IMEI number, etc) and escalated the support request to AT&T’s 2nd-level tech support with no results after 9 days any many hours spent on the phone with various support reps, including supervisors.

Apple’s time limit for sending the old iPhone for trade-in is imminent, so I should probably ship it to Apple immediately. In the meantime I am trying to research this further.

There is an organization at website that offers an iPhone Carrier Check at no cost. This requires entering the device serial number and IMEI numbers. Is this legitimate? Any possibility of a scam? I am not trying to unlock the phone through a 3rd party, just checking the status.

Any other thoughts? Has anyone else had trouble with AT&T customer service? (Cellular service is fine, the problem is only with timely customer support)

If you have your unlock request number you can check your status.

Yes, thank you. Been there, done that many times. That request was denied and still shows as “denied” on many re-checks. That unlock request has actually been superceded by “second-level” support that has a different type of case number, accessible only by AT&T support rep supervisors. The “target resolution date” is 29 September (the day after my deadline for return of the phone to Apple as a part of the trade-in procedure).

I am now trying to do an independent check of the carrier lock status. The in-phone Settings reports the status as “carrier locked”. I want to know what Apple’s trade-in partner will see, presumably when they check the status through an online service. It is unlikely that Apple’s trade-in partner (that receives many thousands of traded-in iphones) will manually check each phone by powering up the phone and looking in Settings. More likely, they will do a batch search online. I want to know what that check will return when Apple’s partner receives the phone.

Therefore - I want to do an online check also … just want to be sure that the place I check is legitimate (example -

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I thought they might have failed to notified you after your last contact. I had to request ATT unlock my 6S some years ago. Didn’t hear from them for a couple of days, called back, and was finally was referred to that page.

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Is a trip to a AT&T store out of the question? That’s what I do if I can’t get it done online (I never call their customer “service”).

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I did that briefly at the nearest AT&T store, about 25 miles away; not helpful. After 15 minutes the two representatives present were still servicing the same two customers, with four additional customers waiting … so I left. Apparently it takes quite a while to sell a phone and set up or transfer an account to a new phone.

Yeah, that is an issue, but it’s my experience that once you’ve gotten your turn they can usually solve the problem. Dunno if they make appointments.

If you purchased your iPhone from Apple at full price, you have an unlocked device. That is how I purchase my devices. AT&T only supplies a SIM card so we can have active service. The device is not locked to AT&T. Once you remove your SIM card from your phone, you should no longer see carrier information.

I believe your request comes back “denied” because your iPhone isn’t locked to any carrier.

Yes, of course. That is what is supposed to happen. In a perfect world.

And I as well. Over the years I have purchased an iPhone 4, iPhone 6s, iPhone Xs, iPhone 13 Pro Max and iPhone 14 Pro – all directly from Apple, unlocked, paid in full. I want only unlocked iPhones! :grinning:

Here is where it gets interesting. Below are screenshots (portions redacted) of the appropriate settings pages in the iPhone Xs:

After extensive troubleshooting steps, AT&T unlock request, removal of SIM + reboot, erase all content and settings followed by new phone setup without the SIM, many hours on the phone with Apple and AT&T reps … no change in the Carrier Lock status in Settings.

I had the same thought - maybe the indicated iPhone Settings parameters are wonky, and maybe the phone isn’t actually locked to the carrier. So I looked into doing an online check of the carrier lock status.

Proceeding with the online IMEI check yielded this result:

It appears that, despite the indicated iPhone Settings, the device may be unlocked after all.

I will ship the device to Apple’s return partner tomorrow, just in time for the return deadline. I assume that the iPhone return facility will do an online check for a batch of returned devices rather than an individual manual Settings check of each device.

Wish me luck for success!

Has anyone else seen this - Settings indicates the phone is carrier locked, but the phone is actually unlocked? If the return process results in a full refund amount, I plan to have a word with Apple about the consternation caused by the indicated Carrier Lock in Settings.


Maybe I am reaching here but… Did you lock your SIM card???

For those who don’t understand what “locking your SIM card” means. People will lock a SIM card and that prevents it from being used in another phone without entering a passcode. Businesses did this for years in case a phone was lost or stolen and they had to pay per minute for calls.

I think you will be fine sending it in. Best of Luck!

How does one do this?

Interesting, but no, never locked the SIM card. I didn’t know there was such a thing. The SIM card has been in the phone since the phone was purchased from Apple (as an unlocked, “no carrier specified” phone) in 2018.

Yes, just shipped the phone yesterday. I will post back here with the result of the trade-in refund.

(Edited to add:) Recall that as part of the troubleshooting process, I removed the SIM and re-booted the phone. Even with no SIM in place the Settings still reported the carrier lock as described. I even wiped the phone (Erase all content and settings) and checked again with no SIM. No joy - still reported as carrier locked in Settings.

I bought my phone through my carrier and it says SIM locked for mine.

Anybody else buy through Apple unlocked and can show an unlocked state?

Yes. With the exception of the iPhone Xs from 2018, all of my family’s iPhones for the last 7 years have been bought from Apple and all show “unlocked”. This includes iPhone 6 and 6 Plus in 2015, iPhone Xs Max in 2018, iPhone 13 Pro Max in 2021 and iPhone 14 Pro in 2022. Only the Xs purchased in 2018 (at the same time as the Xs Max) showed “carrier locked” in Settings.

Exactly. That is why I avoid buying through a carrier. I’m not criticizing anyone who buys through a carrier - sometimes the carriers offer substantial discounts or inflated trade-in values for new phone purchases. But there can be other costs and trade-offs, including installment payment contracts, high monthly service fees and carrier-locked phones.

If you have completed your installment payments or other contract terms, have you tried to unlock your phone? You might want to do that as soon as possible so that you will have an unencumbered phone to sell or trade in whever you want.

It’s strange to me that the carrier can lock it after the fact. I thought you either bought it as unlocked or carrier-locked from the factory.

Have you tried going through apple? It’d be easy to prove that you bought it unlocked and i’m hoping that apple can unlock it.

Apple support representatives claim that Apple does not lock iPhones and cannot unlock them. Locking phones is a carrier thing, according to the 3 Apple reps that I spoke with.

And yes … my receipt from 2018 explicitly states “iPhone Unlocked”:

(return date refers to the deadline for returning my iPhone 6s for trade-in)

During one of my multi-hour phone calls with AT&T support reps (and supervisors, 2nd-level tech support and customer loyalty reps), one of the AT&T reps actually called an Apple tech support rep and had that Apple rep call me back. Apparently AT&T’s (and presumably other carriers’) relationship with Apple affords them a different level of support than that of customers. Even that call resulted in naught.

Settings > Cellular > SIM PIN > enable SIM PIN. You will be prompted to enter a numerical passcode different than your phone unlock passcode. Confirm it and the SIM is now locked.

The customers I assisted who locked their SIM had no idea what it was. They then had to visit their Carrier for a New SIM card. I was yelled at every time this occurred, because of course it was my fault that Apple did not tell them to not do it. Fun times!

Fascinating! Has this always been there? Apparently hiding in plain sight.

I would check my problematic iPhone (described above) for this setting, but it has already been shipped for trade-in.

Just tried to enable sim and the phone wouldn’t let me enter my own code.

Success! And lesson learned (see below).

Within 36 hours of receiving the trade-in iPhone, Apple’s trade-in partner inspected the device and confirmed the full trade-in value.

Lesson learned: To check the carrier lock status of a phone before sale or trade-in, use an online service such as Do not rely on the status displayed in the iPhone Settings > General > About > Carrier Lock.

It is not clear why the Carrier Lock status was displayed as Sim Locked-Carrier Locked in my iPhone Xs. Possibilities include:

  • Quirk or bug in Settings app
  • Problem with carrier: inappropriate Carrier Lock placed, problem with carrier’s records, interface problem between carrier and device status, or inadequate unlock procedure by carrier.

Perhaps this type of problem could be precluded by enhanced regulation of wireless carriers. Placement of carrier locks by wireless carriers is a complex and controversial issue.

In the past carriers have used carrier locks to enable a business model of “selling” phones with zero upfront cost, then locking customers to the carrier indefinitely. Abuses by carriers led to the FCC (U.S. Federal Communications Commission) placing open-access rules (forbidding locking a phone to a carrier) to carriers’ spectrum licenses when frequency spectrum is acquired. Carriers applied for, and received, certain waivers, sometimes time-limited (e.g., 60 days).

Clearly, this system is imperfect. Internet searches for carrier lock problems yield myriads of examples reported by customers. In applying for waivers to open-access rules, carriers contended that locking phones to carriers protected customers by preventing identity theft and outright phone theft. While that might be partly true, the carrier locks resulted in other problems for customers whose phones were inappropriately locked or who were unable to unlock phones to switch carriers or sell phones.

Even though my situation was eventually resolved, I spent many hours on this problem. I would favor even more stringent open-access rules. Perhaps carriers would eventually have to do away with the current business model of heavily subsidizing phone purchase cost, repaid by overly-expensive rate plans and harming customers with clumsy carrier lock practices.

My personal solution: Buy the phone directly from Apple (or other non-carrier retailer), then search around for a reasonable-cost carrier. I do not ever want to be locked to a carrier. But even that “solution” can fail, as described above.

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