Unlocking an iPhone 3G for free

Recently in our iOS app development we’ve been improving the amount of devices we test on, and as I have an old iPhone 3G from o2 we decided to get it up and working again for testing. The only problem is that we needed it to run on the Orange network, and the iPhone was locked to o2.

Searching the internet for ways to unlock an iPhone 3G throws up a few roadblocks – the first of which is the interchangeable use of the terms unlocking, unblocking and jailbreaking. They are all very different things which is worth covering here for clarity:

  • Unlocking: This is what we wanted to do, all it means is taking a mobile that can only be used with SIM cards from a single network, and using it with a SIM card from another network.
  • Unblocking: This is a largely illegal practice that involves taking a phone that has been blocked using it’s IMEI code (a unique identifier for the phone) by the network due to it being lost or stolen.
  • Jailbreaking: Not illegal but certainly frowned upon by Apple, this allows you to install applications directly to the iPhone 3G, 3GS, 4 or 4S directly, bypassing Apple’s App Store process. Apple has been known to “brick” (stop them from working entirely) iPhones that have been jailbroken when software updates are installed.

After a reasonably extensive search of the internet, navigating the minefield of interchangeably used unlocking/unblocking/jailbreaking it seems that there are several companies claiming to unlock iPhones for a fee of anywhere up to $149 USD, taking anywhere up to 3 weeks for the unlock to take effect. Not great options.

As a last gasp I contacted o2 directly using their live chat service, where I was not only connected to an agent straight away, but also informed that with a few details they would unlock my iPhone 3G for free and it would take 72 hours before I would receive a text to let me know it had taken place within the five minute chat.

Great news, but even better was the fact that less than 24 hours later we had a text telling us that the iPhone was unlocked and to connect it to iTunes as you can see below:

Unlocking SMS from o2 for an iPhone

Upon connecting to iTunes we were greeted with the screen we had been waiting for, confirming that the iPhone 3G had been unlocked from o2 and was now free to be used on Orange, Vodafone, Three, T-Mobile or any other UK network for that matter:

iTunes message showing that the iPhone has been unlocked.

Since we had inserted an Orange SIM card we received another message stating the iPhone had received some updated carrier (network) settings. Once we’d hit OK on that box we got the following message to confirm that the settings had been updated on the iPhone 3G:

iTunes message showing the the iPhone carrier (networks) settings have been updated.

And now, after that relatively painless process we have an iPhone that is functioning perfectly on the Orange network, having been successfully unlocked from o2, absolutely free! Great customer service from o2, and something that certainly makes me consider my next personal mobile phone contract business and who I will place it with.

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