Unlocking the iPhone has always been a tedious task compared to other phones. While you can easily obtain BlackBerry unlock codes for less than a dollar to enter into your phone for carrier-free calling in a matter of minutes, the iPhone requires a considerably more in-depth procedure to accomplish the same thing.
It starts with a jailbreak, needed in order to obtain access to the internals of the iPhone operating system. Once there, hackers need to find bugs to exploit in the iPhone’s cellular firmware in order to free your phone from its carrier. Why isn’t this easier? Because Apple’s agreement with the carriers mean they can keep your phone locked until the carrier allows you to unlock it. And although they do allow you unlock it, their unlocking services come with extremely ridiculous and complicated requirements.
Note: If you’re looking for specific information on the policy and do not wish to read my story, feel free to skip to the summary at the very bottom of the article.
My Mother obtained an iPhone 3GS that is locked to Rogers Wireless from a friend in Canada. Her friend has since upgraded to the iPhone 4 by buying out the 3GS contract and signing a new one for the iPhone 4. This means the 3GS is no longer under contract – it is free and clear. My Mother lives in Mexico, so having a phone locked to a Canadian carrier is next to useless unless she only intended to use it as an iPod – she did not.
While visiting my Mother in Mexico, I figured I would take it upon myself to get her new phone unlocked, after all, why not use it to its full potential? I had recently heard about Rogers unlocking iPhones for a fee [Electronista] once the contract on the phone is completed. Although I could (somewhat) easily soft-unlock the phone using the complex method I described above, this isn’t optimal, since then I have to warn my Mother to avoid software updates and it would also create other minor annoyances, such as possibly broken GPS (at the time of writing this article). Therefore, a carrier-level unlock would be much simpler for her. This makes paying the $50 that Rogers is asking for the unlock a reasonable investment. So I called Rogers.
The Ridiculousness of the Rogers Unlock Program
The conversation starts off pretty well, with the first contact representative having heard of the unlock program and transferring me to the correct department. From here things go downhill. I described the situation, how I obtained a phone off-contract and that I’d like to pay the fee to get it unlocked. Unlocking the phone is something you would think Rogers would be happy to do since the phone is no longer on contract, they are receiving $0 from the device at this time (phones on contract pay them a certain amount every month as part of the plan). Handing over $50 for something that costs them nothing, aside from negligible phone operator costs, is a nice small profit for them. Sure I’m just one guy for now, but many people are likely to want to unlock their off-contract phones in the coming years as iPhone 3G and 3GS device contracts come to a close. Their unlocking service should add up to a good little profit over time.
I clearly described to the operator that the phone is not tied to a contract and asked her to look up the serial number so she could verify this. She refused. I asked her what is required, if not the serial number of the phone, in order to unlock the iPhone. Her response? She wants my account information. I told her that the phone I’m looking to unlock has nothing to do with my own Rogers account, but when she wouldn’t continue the conversation until I gave her the info, I relented. Her having that info shouldn’t do any harm anyway. She looked on my account and found my own 3GS (with a different serial number) and the contract on it that has about another two years left. Paraphrasing her response: “I can only unlock phones for people that have no contract on their account.” This apparently is true even if it can be proven that the phone being unlocked has absolutely nothing to do with the account in question. In other words, if you once had an iPhone 3GS and have since completed a hardware upgrade with Rogers to a BlackBerry, Android phone or a new iphone 4, you still cannot unlock your old iPhone. Even though it has been paid off entirely.
What does this mean?
For me and my Mother, this meant I simply had to soft-unlock the phone after all. It also meant Rogers didn’t obtain another penny for the iPhone 3GS in question, which is a puzzling business decision.
For others with iPhones, it means that if you do a hardware upgrade you will never be able to legitimately unlock the older hardware until three years after your ‘last’ device purchase; if you want to unlock, you cannot get a new phone. Even though you have paid for the older phone in its entirety, you are unable to unlock it. How absurd is that? I can walk into an Apple store and buy an iPhone 4 for about $750 factory unlocked. But after I’ve paid $1,440-2,160 (~$60 [conservative estimate] per month for 2 or 3 years) I’m forced to keep the phone locked to Rogers? Even when they have the ability to unlock it AND I’m willing to pay additional fees to do so?
Now that is ridiculous.
Why would they do this? There is only one reason that makes any sense. If the hoops you have to jump through to get your phone unlocked means that more phones remained locked to Rogers, then whomever you sell or give your iPhone to will have to sign up for a new plan with Rogers. It’s the opposite of loyalty, they are actually forcing people to use their service when they should be using their marketing and customer service to attract customers and create real loyalty instead.
[UPDATE] Elise from Rogers was kind enough to clarify on this point in the comments below. Apparently the rep I spoke to was misinformed on this particular topic. Although it is true that I could not unlock that iPhone because it was never under my account (an aggravating policy), the original owner in Toronto supposedly could call up and have it unlocked even though he has a new iPhone 4. In other words, hardware upgrades supposedly do not negate the ability to unlock the original handset.
You can bet that the next iPhone I buy will be factory unlocked and that, because of this experience, Rogers may very well lose me as a customer. This negative attitude I have towards Rogers is in stark contrast to my former attitude; up until this point, I have enjoyed their service and promoted Rogers everywhere I could. The new attitude boils down to a simple economic decision that is so poorly thought out that it makes almost no sense: Because Rogers refused to accept my $50, over a policy that sounds as ridiculous as what is coming out of the CRTC these days [Financial Post], I am no longer comfortable entrusting my account with the company.
[UPDATE] Elise – a Rogers representative – has responded in the comments below. Keep reading for further details and hopefully further clarifications regarding the policies in place for unlocking your iPhone with Rogers.
======== Appended Aug 16, 2011 ========
[UPDATE] Since this article is #1 on Google.ca for ‘Rogers iPhone unlock’, I think it’s in everyone’s best interests to have a simple summary with a clear description of how their program works based on the information provided by the Rogers rep I talked to on the phone and by @RogersElise in the comments below.
Summary of The Unlock Policy
- To unlock your iPhone you MUST have an active Rogers account in good standing. Despite what the Rogers rep on the telephone told me, @RogersElise clarified that you can have an iPhone or other device on contract as long as the iPhone you are unlocking is currently not under contractual obligations.
- If you have purchased the phone from someone else who did not unlock it, you will be unable to unlock the phone through Rogers
- You are required to pay $50 CAD to unlock the phone. I assume that is before tax.
- While I appreciate @RogersElise’s personal response on the matter, and believe that it is great that they’re reaching out to people to help clarify their policies, I believe this particular policy is not well thought out.
It is my belief that verifying (via Serial Number or IMEI – both unique identifiers for the phone) that the iPhone is not under contractual obligations or reported stolen by the original owner should be enough verification for the phone to be unlocked. In other words, account information should not be required. Why do I believe this? Because there are multiple cases where someone without a Rogers account would be willing to Pay Rogers to unlock their phone and should be granted that right as the full-owner of the phone. One example is my Mother, discussed above, who lives in Mexico and was given the phone as a gift. Another example is someone who sells their phone on eBay, Craig’s List, Kijiji or elsewhere without realizing they need to unlock it. The buyer, as the current owner of the phone, should be able to unlock it to work on their carrier of choice.
A counter-argument to this is suggested in the comments below by someone named Matt. He believes they require a valid account for security reasons. My response to that can also be found below, but the general idea is that by the time the phone is off-contract Rogers shouldn’t be imposing any further security upon your phone at all – that should be considered an invasion of privacy, even if it is supposedly to protect you. In other words, although I am open to good arguments in favour of the current Rogers policy, I do not accept Matt’s argument as anything but a weak rationalization.