AT&T Quietly Changed its Smartphone Unlock Policy





Close up of girl on laptop and cellphone

AT&T has updated its unlock policy for paid-in-full devices without many people noticing. Instead of being able to purchase a smartphone in full from the carrier and moving to another service without waiting, customers now must wait 60 days from the purchase date. 

While the change happened in late July, they were spotted a few days ago by a Reddit user and were later confirmed by the mobile carrier.

“We have updated our policy for unlocking devices by requiring a 60-day waiting period to deter theft and fraud,” an AT&T spokesperson told Cord Cutters News. “This aligns our unlocking practice with others in the industry.”

Theft and fraud related to unlocked devices isn’t unheard of. In 2022, a man was found guilty of using stolen credentials to unlock thousands of cellphones between 2014 and 2019. The scheme earned the man about $25 million. A lengthier wait time for customers to unlock devices is inconvenient, but it’s not without just cause from mobile carriers.    

Now, customers who’ve purchased a phone in full 60 days after the purchase date, or made their 36 installment payments, can unlock their device, “if they meet all other requirements,” according to the mobile carrier. 

According to screenshots posted by the Reddit user, AT&T’s old policy, dated October 8, 2021, said phones paid in full at the time of purchase, and not on an installment plan, wouldn’t have to wait 60 days to unlock it. The new policy, dated July 25, 2023, says that phones paid in full at the time of purchase, and not on an installment plan, would have to wait 60 days from the purchase date to submit an unlock request.

For comparison, T-Mobile requires devices on postpaid plans, or contracted plans, to have “been active on the T‑Mobile network for at least 40 days on the requesting line.”

“If the device was financed or leased through T‑Mobile then all payments must be satisfied and the device must be paid in full,” T-Mobile’s policy page said. 

As of July 23, 2019, devices purchased from Verizon are locked for 60 days from the date of purchase, according to Verizon’s support page. The page says devices are locked for 60 days post-purchase whether they’re paid in full when purchased or paid off early on an installment plan.   
When you purchase a phone directly from a mobile carrier, it has a software code that prevents it from being used on another carrier’s network. This is considered a locked phone. An unlocked phone doesn’t have the software code, so you can take it to a different mobile carrier for service.

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