When the Apple iPhone was released in 2007, it was locked to a single network: AT&T. AT&T has never been the fastest network on the block, nor does it have great coverage. So iPhone users quickly sought out ways to use the iPhone on other networks, and succeeded to some degree with software and hardware bypasses called ‘unlocks’.
In 2011, Apple’s contract with AT&T officially ended, and iPhones became available on Verizon’s network. Since then, the iPhone is available with most major carriers, including Sprint, T-Mobile, and pre-paid networks like Boost Mobile and Straight Talk.
Because of this, iPhone unlocking isn’t nearly as important as it used to be. Nevertheless, there are still significant benefits to buying a factory unlocked iPhone, or unlocking one you already own. Depending on your needs, this can be a great choice.
Here are the top 4 reasons to unlock your iPhone:
Access to cheaper plans
As mentioned earlier, iPhones are now available on a number of pre-paid networks. However, most of the cheapest networks available still don’t have plans with Apple.
Mobile virtual network operators (or MVNOs) are cellular carriers that pay a fee to operate on a major carrier’s network, without actually owning any of the towers. Because MVNOs have much less overhead than the main carriers, they are usually able to offer cheaper and more creative data plans.
Let’s take Total Wireless, for instance. Total Wireless offers 5 GB of data on Verizon’s LTE network with unlimited talk and text for $35.00 a month. But 4GB of data and unlimited talk/text will cost you $50.00 a month on Verizon’s official network, plus $27.00 a month to pay off the phone, plus a monthly $20.00 ‘access charge’.
All in all, that’s $97.00 a month to use an iPhone on Verizon’s official network, versus $35.00 a month on an MVNO that offers more data on the exact same towers.
Here’s the catch: Total Wireless doesn’t offer any iPhones besides the 5S. If you have an iPhone 6 or 7, you cannot use Total Wireless. Unless, of course, your iPhone is unlocked.
Easily switch carriers without termination fees
iPhones are known for many things, but inexpensive isn’t one of them. Considering the cost of purchasing a brand new iPhone, it surprises many to learn that carriers actually sell iPhones at a loss. That iPhone 6 that you bought for $199 at the Apple store is actually worth a cool $649.
Carriers undercharge for two reasons:
- So that customers are not scared away by high prices
- So they can overcharge you in the long run by including the price of the phone – plus interest – in your monthly bill
This is why cancelling a contract with your carrier incurs expensive termination fees: the carrier needs to pay off the price of your phone.
For people who like to switch between two different carriers, these fees are unwieldy. Having an unlocked phone means you can easily swap out SIM cards whenever you want without the myriad of fees that would normally follow this practice. Cancelling a plan is unnecessary: an unlocked iPhone is essentially hot-swappable.
Much cheaper international calls
Using a cell phone outside your country of origin is extremely expensive. Carriers charge roaming fees to access foreign networks, or offer expensive ‘travel plans’ that bulk up the monthly cost to use your phone.
For instance, Verizon may charge up to $10 a day just to use phones outside of the United States. It’s easy to see how going abroad for even two weeks could more than double the cost of your phone bill. For people who travel frequently, this is not an economically viable option.
There’s a much cheaper solution: buying a foreign SIM card. Once arriving in a foreign country, it’s easy to cheaply purchase a SIM card with a local carrier that charges standard fees. Often, SIM cards can even be purchased in airports immediately after arrival.
If your iPhone is unlocked, you can easily swap out your SIM card for a foreign SIM card, and use the phone at a reasonable price. Locked iPhones will be forced to make calls under the ridiculously expensive plans described earlier.
Better resell value
For all the reasons listed above, an unlocked iPhone is automatically worth more than an iPhone locked to any particular carrier. Since anyone can use an unlocked iPhone on any network, the unlocked versions sell for more money.
An unlocked iPhone 6 with 16GB of memory is currently on eBay for $429. That’s $200 more than the value of the exact same iPhone locked to a carrier.
The benefits of unlocking an iPhone all boil down to one thing: money. Carriers have reason to oppose unlocking, and have tried to prevent its legality for some time now. Owning an unlocked iPhone makes you much less vulnerable to the hidden fees and extra costs that carriers try to inflict on those who don’t know any better.
We have tested various Unlock providers in our big iPhone 7 unlock guide – read it to find the best solution for you.