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iPhone with UK SIM-- unlocked or not?

I have checked the archives, and yes, there is a lot of info on iPhone usage, but this part is still unclear to me: I upgraded my AT&T iPhone 3g, and now have the 4. Since I still have the old one, I hope to use it in Scotland with a UK SIM. Does it need to be unlocked, even though it doesn't have a data/phone plan attached to it? I have gotten conflicting information from Apple and AT&T does anyone have actual user experience with this? If unlocking is needed, can anyone offer suggestions or point me toward good information about HOW to do this? Again, conflicting and confusing information is all that I have found. Thanks! I have gotten a wealth of information from this site and I know that y'all will help me get this one last part settled!

Posted by
9363 posts

Yes, it will need to be unlocked. Otherwise, a SIM card other than AT&T will not work in the phone. As for how to do it, the phone company must give you the information if you ask. You might have to be persistent, but they will tell you.

Posted by
32201 posts

Allyson, Could you clarify whether you plan on using your iPhone 3G only for internet data use via Wi-Fi, or as a "basic phone" for voice and text as well? I'm assuming you transferred your present SIM to the new iPhone, so the 3GS model is no longer active? If you're planning on using it as a basic phone, it WILL have to be unlocked in order to function with another SIM. Unfortunately, I don't have an iPhone so don't have any information on how to accomplish that. There's lots of information on the net if you search "unlock iphones". If you want data access while travelling, you could look at something like www.iphonetrip.com. You'd need to get your iPhone unlocked to use that as well. Good luck!

Posted by
7 posts

I hope to do all of the above. Right now I can use the wifi, but I'd like to have a phone to use for voice and text. Orange has some SIM PAYG offers that look good. I'm assuming you transferred your present SIM to the new iPhone, so the 3GS model is no longer active? Yes, this is correct If you're planning on using it as a basic phone, it WILL have to be unlocked in order to function with another SIM. Unfortunately, I don't have an iPhone so don't have any information on how to accomplish that. There's lots of information on the net if you search "unlock iphones". This is the part where I keep getting stuck. Too much info! If you want data access while travelling, you could look at something like www.iphonetrip.com. You'd need to get your iPhone unlocked to use that as well. Yikes! Those prices are exorbitant! I can't afford that!! If I go to Orange Mobile http://shop.orange.co.uk/mobile-phones/pay-as-you-go I can find a lot of options that cost less. I think my backup plan might be just buying
a PAYG phone there. Thank you !

Posted by
32201 posts

Allyson, Another option to buying a PAYG phone would be to use a phone or SIM from one of the "travel phone" firms such as Roam Simple, Call In Europe, Telestial, Cellular Abroad or Mobal. That way you'd have a phone available for use as soon as you land. If you purchase an unlocked quad-band GSM phone from E-Bay, that would provide you with more choice over the brand, features and type of phone (some people prefer "flips" while others prefer "bar" style phones). You could use it either with a SIM from one of the travel phone firms, or a SIM that you purchase in the UK. One of the advantages of the travel phone plans is that these usually operate on a post-paid basis, with costs charged to a credit card. With that method, there are no worries about "running out of minutes" in the middle of a call, or having to top-up. One other thing to consider is will the phone be used on future trips, or only on this one? Regarding unlocking your iPhone, have a look at www.unlock-apple-iphone.com/. I've heard that unlocked iPhones may not be able to access all features provided, but I don't have much information on that. Also, if the firmware is upgraded, the phone will "re-lock".

Posted by
7 posts

Mobal costs a fortune, and you get very little for the money, IMO, in comparison to PAYG from a local carrier. It doesn't seem like a very good value at all. I'm not concerned about running out of minutes and being unable to top up-- we will be in Scotland and always in well-traveled and populated areas. for about what Mobal charges I think I could use my AT&T service. I think I'd rather have the control of a PAYG. I don't want to buy an "investment piece" of a phone for over there, because while I do hope to go back, it probably won't be right away. Even if it just takes me a year, the phone will be outdated. More than that and I have a doorstop. I will check the unlock link you provided. Thank you!!

Posted by
9363 posts

As I said in my first post, AT&T has to tell you how to unlock the phone. It's just a matter of what code to put where. The simplest way to do this is to go into your AT&T store and ask them. They might even do it for you.

Posted by
7 posts

Thanks, Nancy-- I will stop by the store today. I hope that it's that easy!! This has had me scratching my head for quite a while! I'll update when I get home.

Posted by
1152 posts

I'm afraid Nancy's advice is incorrect. Unless they have changed, the iPhone is the one phone that cannot be unlocked. It must be "jailbroken" to be used with another carrier's SIM. Jailbreaking involves rewriting some of the operating system. It voids your warranty and is not for the faint at heart. (You'll read about the risk of "bricking" your phone, that is, converting your working phone into a brick.) How can Apple do this when all other phones can be unlocked? Because they are Apple. Buy a cheap prepaid phone when you get there. Get a local SIM. Much better deal.

Posted by
32201 posts

Allyson, Did you check the rates for the other travel phone firms, besides Mobal?

Posted by
1152 posts

Choosing which phone service to use is complicated. Here are some of the factors affecting any decision: 1. Number of countries in which you plan to use phone. 2. Number of incoming and outgoing calls. 3. Expected length of calls. 4. Where the calls are going (U.S. or local). 5. Number of incoming and outgoing text messages. 6. Amount of data, if any, you plan to use. 7. Importance of convenience versus cost.
8. Your comfort level with programming a phone. Using an "all Europe SIM" or buying a phone and SIM from one of these companies should be done only if you value convenience over cost and aren't that comfortable with the technical features of a phone. You will pay more than the alternative of buying a local SIM. Due to the higher costs for data, however, you should almost always get a local SIM if you plan to use anything more than a trivial amount of data. I haven't used any of them, but cellomobile.com, callineurope.com, and roamsimple.com seem to have better rates than some of the other companies. Telestial has some good rates, depending upon which plan you choose, but has higher initial costs. All of the "all Europe SIM" plans have upfront costs. Buying a local SIM may not.

Posted by
2 posts

Actually, Paul's comment is incorrect. It may be true that ATT will be releuctant, if not outright hostile to the idea of telling you how to unlock your own iphone, it is doable. The iphone is not unlockable. The internet has dozens of reputable sites that walk you through the process of both jailbreaking and unlocking your iphone. Both steps are necessary. It is not rocket science, though neither is it completely straightforward. More than anything, you need a block of time to slowly and deliberately follow the steps necessary for it to be successful. Since your older phone is not in use, there's very little to be worried about. I have a 3GS iphone with T-mobile that is jailbroken and unlocked. So many dissatisfied customers have left ATT with their iphones that T-Mobile actually has created a separate division within technical support to deal with them. It is doable. Good luck. I'm taking my jailbroken and unlocked iphone to London and Glasgow in August for 3 weeks. I plan to pick up a sim card on arrival. Currently looking at the best deals for my needs. There are plenty of reasonable options to choose from: Orange, Vodaphone, O2, T-Mobile, Tesco.GiffGaff. Go to their websites to seek out specials that may apply to you.

Posted by
32201 posts

One other point to mention. While it's very easy to obtain a European PAYG SIM for voice and text, AFAIK it's somewhat more difficult to obtain a PAYG data plan. Data access is often restricted to those signing onto a term plan. There are a few exceptions though, such as iPhone Trip.

Posted by
32201 posts

@ Paul, The situation with data plans is changing as Smart phones (especially the iPhone) become more popular. It used to be almost impossible to obtain a PAYG data plan in Europe, but that's not necessarily true now. The plan that Allyson found with Orange and those that you mentioned are some of the "exceptions" that I was referring to. I agree that iPhone trip is horrendously expensive, so not something I'd probably ever use. I just use a "basic" voice & text phone at the moment, so haven't been too concerned with data plans yet. However, I have looked at these in some detail, as I may decide to try the iPhone 5 when it's introduced (hopefully this fall) and wanted to get some idea what the costs might be for travelling with it. Incidentally, I just renewed my plan with one of the "travel phone" firms I mentioned above, and will be evaluating that again this year. I feel this is the most cost effective solution for my specific situation and calling patterns, as I'll be travelling in several countries and therefore the rates will be consistent regardless of where I am. In my case, it's essential that I have a "linked" local number so that I can be easily contacted by family and especially my financial institution.

Posted by
1152 posts

Ken, I'm not an absolutist (generally). I can see the advantages of some of the all Europe SIMs. If Telestial's web information is correct, for example, one of its plans that offers free incoming calls throughout Europe sounds like a good deal for parents who want to be able to call their kids overseas for a trip that takes them to a bunch of countries. (Calling internationally from the U.S. can be done very cheaply these days.) I'm a little skeptical that the description is correct, though. Also, I think it comes with a $59 up front fee, so that has to figure in to whether it is a good value under the circumstances. The parents would have to talk for at least an hour to make it begin to look worthwhile, I suppose. As for data, however, having looked at this in detail in the past few days, getting a prepaid local SIM is the way to go. That's all I was saying.

Posted by
495 posts

Ken, if this forum has a problem it's that people tend to over generalise about how things work in "Europe". I think you may have fallen into that trap. UK PAYG sims have been data enabled for donkey's years - the rates have never been that competative but that's by the by.

Posted by
7 posts

Orange has a PAYG sim that offers data. A bit moreexpensivee than a regular plan, but cheaper than using mine with roaming. I think that's the plan I want. I will check with the AT&T store as well as with those other phone companies!! Thank you ! Y'all can see what I mean about conflicting information?? This has all been more informative than what I've gotten elsewhere!

Posted by
1021 posts

We'll have our iPhone unlocked when we travel to the UK next year. I've found iPhone unlock services on the internet which charge $25-30 that I'll use if I can't figure out how to do it for free. I'm interested in your experience with AT&T, so please report how that goes, Allyson. Carphone Warehouse has several paygo sims which include data. They have stores all over the UK. Here's the link to their current stock Carphone Warehouse

Posted by
1152 posts

Ken wrote: One other point to mention. While it's very easy to obtain a European PAYG SIM for voice and text, AFAIK it's somewhat more difficult to obtain a PAYG data plan. Data access is often restricted to those signing onto a term plan. There are a few exceptions though, such as iPhone Trip.
Ken, these statements are not correct, at least as to the U.K. and Germany. I suspect the same is true for other countries as well. If you can get a pay-as-you-go, or prepaid SIM, you can likely get a data plan as well. The benefit of a prepaid plan: no surprises from huge data charges down the road. If you use AT&T or T-Mobile for data access while in Europe, you are either a chump or money is no object. If you use Mobal, Telestial, or any of the other "world SIM" providers for data access, the same is true. Unless you use a tiny smidgen of data on your trip, and unless you monitor it carefully and accurately, you are likely to be hit with a bill when you return home in the thousands of dollars. If you must have data and if wifi access alone isn't sufficient, you must get a local prepaid SIM (or a U.K. SIM and roam). (See my other recent posts in the General Europe forum. Most of the "world SIM" card providers are actually selling you a SIM from the U.K.) You can data roam in Europe on T-Mobile U.K. for one Pound for 3 MB. There are cheaper rates if you choose a longer plan. If you are using data in the U.K. itself, the costs are even less, as for example, 500 MB for one month for 5 pounds. I wish I could get that kind of rate here. With iphonetrip.com, the rates are between $16 and $26 a day. The only advantage of iphonetrip is rates are capped, but what a cap. With AT&T, T-Mobile, Telestial, etc. you pay by the usage at extremely high rates. Using AT&T or Telestial may have some advantages for some people, but they are a disaster for anyone looking to use data.

Posted by
1152 posts

@Tom, perhaps what I should have said is the iPhone is the one phone for which unlocking alone isn't sufficient. It also must be jailbroken. I didn't mean to imply you couldn't use the iPhone with a non-AT&T SIM - I know you can - I just wanted to stress it wasn't as easy as calling up AT&T for the unlock code.

Posted by
1152 posts

Unsuccessfully tried to add the following to my post: I haven't read the posts there recently, but if you are looking for more information on European cell possibilities, check out Howard Forums dot com under the "General European Discussion" heading (scroll down to get to it). The Howard Forums are one of the best places to find accurate information about mobile phones.

Posted by
7 posts

Ok, I am ONLY going to Scotland. I will need a UK SIM, of which there are many choices, and many of them include data, so that's easy to figure out. Since I already have the old iPhone that isn't attached to a contract, it seems to be wise to do what I can to use it. It doesn't make any sense for me to buy a world phone because I am not going anywhere else in the near future. I don't think it makes sense to buy something that I might use in a year or two (the exception would be if I can't get the iPhone to work I will buy a £10-20 PAYG when I arrive, but that's just a backup plan, I hope). Technology changes so fast and generally that means that prices go down over time, so investing in something more seems to be silly. I definitely can't afford the roaming rates offered on the others-- It's a 3 week study abroad trip. I'm a 40-year-old college student, so funds are limited, to say the least. I just want to be able to keep in touch with my husband and kids and to be able to look up directions or whatever else I am used to doing on my iPhone at home. If you call it an even $20 per day for iphonetrip that ends up costing me over $400, which is over 1/3 of my total discretionary spending budget. OTOH, Orange has a plan as low as £10 that will give me 100MB to use while I'm there, and I know that I won't end up paying anything extra-- when it's gone it's gone (although I don't see what would stop me buying another £10 SIM to get another 100MB). Anyway-- the bottom line is that I have the plan thing worked out, now I just need to figure out the hardware issue. This is what I meant by conflicting information. I'm so confused. I did try to unlock/jailbreak the phone but the instructions I found were absolutely incomprehensible (and I consider myself pretty technologically savvy).

Posted by
32201 posts

@ Paul, Some of the plans offered by Telestial seemed good, but overall I found they didn't work as well for me so I used one of the other firms. When the time comes that I travel with a Smart phone, I'll re-evaluate the situation. @ Peter, Thanks for the details on PAYG data plans in the U.K. There was a time when these were only available on term plans to customers with a local address, so that excluded those of us from this side of the pond. It was the same situation here, but I believe Rogers now offers PAYG voice and data plans. They always seem to have a higher cost than term plans. Unfortunately, the PAYG voice and data plans in the UK (or elsewhere) probably still won't work for me, as the ability to link my regular cellular number with my travel number is essential. I used a Netbook on my trip last year, and found that was perfectly adequate for keeping up with E-mail and net access. I suppose the most important point is that everyone has to find the solution that's best for their circumstances, so you're correct in that it's not a good idea to "over generalize". Cheers!

Posted by
79 posts

As others have said - yes you need to jailbreak your phone. We have "jailbroken" 4 iphones this year through
http://www.iphoneunlockuk.com/ and gotten pay as you go international sim cards through t-mobile with good results. You said you will just be in Scotland, but whenever I land in a new European country I get a text with offers for "5 days of unlimited data for £5" or something similar that isn't too expensive.

Posted by
2 posts

Nice sharing.Here i want to share my unlocking experience.Recently i unlocked my Uk Locked iphone using Remote unlocking method.It's the best and secure way to unlock ipohne.
I bought unlocking service from http://www.unlock-zone.com/ Here i easily unlocked my iphone wihtout jailbreaking.

Posted by
1 posts

At present as per DMCA act unlocking has become illegal in USA (i.e unlocking a US network locked phone is a crime). And there has been a petiton filed in the whithouse to make unlocking permanently legal.The petition has been filed in the name as "We the people".

Posted by
7 posts

I plan to do the same thing with my old iPhone 3G-Last thing I want is to come home to a $500 phone bill.My old 3Ghas a cracked screen, and there is a guy in SLC who will fix that for $60. With any repair, he also offers to unlock the phone for free. I don't know anything about how to unlock my phone...I'm just going to let him do it. www.ShatteredApple.com

Posted by
36 posts

You can call AT&T and if your account is in good standing, they will unlock your old phone. I've done it with a couple of older iPhones on our companies plan. If you want to check the lock status of your iPhone, you can go to http://iphoneimei.info/ and enter what's called the IMEI number of your phone. To get the IMEI, enter *#06# on the phone keypad or open Settings, General, About. Oh, and Carphone Warehouse is a good place to get SIMs in the UK. Take a look at http://www.carphonewarehouse.com/sims/pay-as-you-go/pay-as-you-go-sims