Why was my iPhone not unlocked?

Stampyhead

macrumors 68020
Original poster
Sep 3, 2004
2,294
30
London, UK
This is mainly a question for UK iPhone users, as things may work a bit differently in other countries.
In July of '10 I purchased my iPhone 4 at my local Apple Store. As far as I understand Apple sells the iPhone unlocked (sim-free) in the UK so if you buy it outright you can stick whatever sim you want in it, or if you want to go on contract you can make your choice of the 4-5 carriers that offer iPhone service in the UK. I would think they would have to sell it unlocked or they would have to have different stock for each carrier and for those who just want the phone sim-free.
Anyway, I got it on an O2 contract and just assumed it was unlocked although I guess I never actually stuck another sim card in to test it. I got the 4S in November so I decided to give my 4 to my daughter for Christmas. She is on Orange so we ordered a micro-sim from them and registered it to her phone number. But the sim wouldn't work. It would alternate between saying 'Invalid SIM' and 'No Service'.
After a few days of searching online and getting more and more frustrated, I read a post on some forum that made me wonder if the phone wasn't actually unlocked. So I sent an unlock request to O2. 2 days later I got the text saying that the phone was unlocked, so I inserted the new sim and plugged the phone into iTunes and lo and behold, it worked.
I'm happy it's working now, but I'm left wondering how it could be that the phone was locked to O2. Did the phone become locked to that carrier when I first inserted the sim? If so, what do the people do who purchase the phone outright? If anyone has any insight on this, please enlighten me. It's just to satisfy my own curiosity at this point, the phone is working fine.
 

chenks

macrumors 6502a
Oct 23, 2007
964
1
UK
You say you bought it from the apple store, but then say you got it on an O2 contract.

The easiest way to tell is by how much you actually paid for the phone. If you paid the full price then it is unlocked. If you paid a subsidised price then it will be locked to your network carrier.
 

iMacDragon

macrumors 68000
Oct 18, 2008
1,745
293
UK
If you buy it subsidized with contract, the phone gets flagged in database as locked to carrier. The actual determination of whether phone is locked or unlocked happens when it activated on itunes server, before then the phone itself doesn't know.
 

Daveoc64

macrumors 601
Jan 16, 2008
4,057
49
Bristol, UK
I wrote this in another thread yesterday (I've tweaked it a little to be more relevant here though):

The iPhone is an incredibly locked down device.

It will only work if it is "activated" using Apple's servers.

They will only perform that activation if you insert a valid SIM for your device (i.e. if it's locked to a carrier, you must use that carrier's SIM to activate it) and connect it to iTunes (or with iOS 5.0+ on the device itself in some scenarios).

Without the activation process, the device is useless. You can't even use it for iPod touch-style functionality.

As part of the activation process, Apple sets the device's lock status. For most people, that'll be to the carrier they purchased it from.

The lock status is derived from a database held by Apple of every iPhone they have sold. Any iPhone has the capability to be locked to any network or to no network at all - this helps Apple with both sales and repairs as they don't need to keep loads of each device sitting around.

When you bought your iPhone from O2 they would have told Apple to lock it to the O2 UK network.

If your carrier unlocks the device (under their terms - that could include a waiting period, a fee to pay, meeting other requirements etc.) then they ask Apple to update their database and change the lock status.

O2 has few requirements (on a pay monthly contract there's basically no requirement at all) for doing this.

The user of the phone must then connect it to iTunes with a SIM from a different carrier (Orange UK in your case) inserted to complete the unlock.

If you had bought the phone directly from Apple and not paid a subsidised price for it, it would have been unlocked from the start.
 

Stampyhead

macrumors 68020
Original poster
Sep 3, 2004
2,294
30
London, UK
Thanks for the responses. So to make sure I'm understanding correctly, even though I purchased the phone from the Apple store, because I signed up for a contract at that time and got the phone at a subsidised price the phone became locked once I inserted the sim card? I figured this might be the case but then I'm a bit confused about how it works if I purchase the phone unsubsidised. Say I already had a contract but I decided I wanted a new phone so I went and paid full price for it. If I put in my contract sim would that lock the phone to that carrier even though they did not subsidise the cost of the phone? What is it exactly that triggers the phone to go from locked to unlocked? I'm sorry if I'm being dense, I just want to make sure I understand exactly how this works!
 

wordoflife

macrumors 604
Jul 6, 2009
7,563
32
Thanks for the responses. So to make sure I'm understanding correctly, even though I purchased the phone from the Apple store, because I signed up for a contract at that time and got the phone at a subsidised price the phone became locked once I inserted the sim card?
Rather, they sold you a locked device and your carrier, O2, unlocked it for you.

There's no trick about how or when the SIM is entered to ensure the unlockability of the device upon start. Either they sell you a locked device from the start, or they sell you an unlocked device. In the UK, most carriers will unlock your phone if you ask them to. In that case, the phone can never be "locked" again. Once it's unlocked, it's unlocked forever.

Since you're from the UK, you don't really have that much to worry about since your carrier will generally unlock the phone for you. Some carriers won't, such as AT&T in the United States. But I guess it's smart to check before you leave the store just in case you plan to use the phone on a nonofficial iPhone carrier (GiffGaf won't be able to unlock an Orange iPhone) :)
 
Last edited:

Stealthipad

macrumors 68040
Apr 30, 2010
3,223
7
Thanks for the responses. So to make sure I'm understanding correctly, even though I purchased the phone from the Apple store, because I signed up for a contract at that time and got the phone at a subsidised price the phone became locked once I inserted the sim card? I figured this might be the case but then I'm a bit confused about how it works if I purchase the phone unsubsidised. Say I already had a contract but I decided I wanted a new phone so I went and paid full price for it. If I put in my contract sim would that lock the phone to that carrier even though they did not subsidise the cost of the phone? What is it exactly that triggers the phone to go from locked to unlocked? I'm sorry if I'm being dense, I just want to make sure I understand exactly how this works!
There is no secret. They have locked and unlocked phones at the store. You got a locked one.:apple:
 

darngooddesign

macrumors G3
Jul 4, 2007
9,318
213
Atlanta, GA
Any phone you get with a subsidized discount will be locked to a carrier; that's why they are covering some of the cost. Whether a carrier will unlock it after the fact is at their discretion.