When you buy a subsidized iPhone directly from a network or retail outlet it will be IMEI locked, meaning it can only be used with one carrier. The networks make some hefty profits from the customers they lock into a 24 or 36 month contract. To ensure as many customers as possible are enticed into signing on the line, they offer really cheap, sometimes free, iPhones. When it comes to the Apple iPhone, in order to entice their potential customers to sign up for lengthy contracts with them, the big cellular providers virtually give them away! If that wasn’t enough, to make these deals seem even more appealing, Apple have agreed to work with the networks to keep the retail price of a factory unlocked iPhone very high. The prices of the factory unlocked iPhone bought directly from Apple are often in excess of 5 times the price of the subsidized models supplied by the networks.
Being able to buy an iPhone at a heavily reduced price sounds like a great idea, right? May be you have to travel internationally on business? We don’t have to highlight how much you can be charged while roaming overseas. It’s not unusual for people to return from holidays or international business trips to face massive cellular bills as they have failed to consider the hefty cost charged for cellular and data roaming charges. The smart thing to do would be to use a domestic service from a local carrier. Many airports now sell local pay-as-you-go SIM cards for exactly this reason. But only an unlocked iPhone can be used on any network.
A while ago there were two ways in which an iPhone could be unlocked. The software method used to be the way to go, but this has subsequently been replaced with the IMEI unlocking process. The software unlock was a temporary method, and had to be applied every time the iPhone was rebooted, whereas the IMEI unlock is permanent.
Several years ago it was possible to unlock an iPhone using a software program. However this method required the handset to have previously been jailbroken (a procedure which uses glitches in the phones operating system to enable third party software to be installed on the device). With the unlocking software installed on the jailbroken phone, it was possible to connect it to networks other than those it was officially locked to. It is important to understand that a software unlock only works on a few iPhone models – the iPhone 3Gs, iPhone 4 and iPhone 4s – and that they could not be running above iOS 5.1.1.
The better alternative to the software unlock, is the iPhone factory unlock. This method of unlocking is not only stable, it doesn’t even void the manufacturer’s warranty. The great advantage factory unlocking has over the software unlock is that it’s permanent, meaning once unlocked, your iPhone will remain unlocked, even after updating to the current (or any future operating system updates). It is only until recently that the only option available to consumers to acquire an IMEI unlock would be directly through the carriers. Some networks would offer this option to loyal customers, but only if strict criteria had been adhered to, and the contract the phone was provided under had been completed of course.