AT&T has at last updated their policy about refusing to unlock iPhones, and thrown their customers a bone. A very small bone. The new policy only partly echoes the unlocking methods used by their main competitors in the U.S.: Sprint and Verizon Wireless. The iPhone is also available, or becoming available, with several smaller regional carriers, and they will have varying policies about such matters.
But AT&T’s new plan still reeks of paranoia. If your two-year contract for the iPhone has expired, no problem. If the contract hasn’t expired, you have to pay the early termination fee to get the thing unlocked. While encouraging, it’s still stupid with a capital “S.”
Now consider why most people want their phones unlocked. Take, for example, my son, Grayson. Several years ago, he moved to Madrid. Obviously, he’d have to pay a bundle to AT&T to use his vintage Motorola RAZR outside of the U.S., even with the pathetic plans offered by AT&T, at least while the contract was in force. But they agreed to unlock his phone. When he returns to the U.S., he’s on their network. When he’s at home, he can plug in a different SIM and take advantage of whatever plan he can get from a local carrier. Actually, he uses a low-cost Nokia smartphone, since AT&T wouldn’t let him unlock an iPhone for travel.
In a small part, I understand AT&T’s reluctance. They pay a premium price to Apple for every iPhone, and they only make a profit if you use most of your two-year contract. But AT&T still doesn’t get it. Consider the plight of someone who has to travel overseas on occasion. They aren’t leaving AT&T. They just need a way to be able to use their iPhone in another country without having to pay exorbitant global connection rates. They plan to return, so AT&T is not losing a customer.
So wouldn’t it make sense for AT&T to agree to unlock an iPhone free of charge with your agreement that you only need to use a different carrier temporarily? If you fail to return to the AT&T network in a timely fashion, they can charge you that early termination fee, although that’s still an absurd maneuver, even if the corporate accountants may believe it’s necessary.
But the real solution is rather more logical. AT&T and other wireless careers should, themselves, make deals with overseas telcos to allow you to travel almost unrestricted around the world and pay a modest sum for calls and data. These carriers are just looking now for short-term profits, gouging the customer rather than offering a sensible solution to a fairly common problem.
Sure, you can jailbreak your iPhone and unlock it yourself, if you are willing to take the risk and suffer from a possible voided warranty. But why?
I would think that anything lost from offering a cheap overseas calling and data bundle would be more than compensated for by volume. Not to mention keeping your customers happy, which may be an obsolete concept in this day and age.
Yes, I suppose you could just pay full price for an iPhone, so it’s not tethered to a specific carrier. Maybe you prefer it that way, so you can turn off one plan and switch to another depending on where you might be at any given point in time. For a world traveler, it might even make sense. If you can afford all those travel bills — unless you’re bicycling your way through Europe and have no spare cash — you can probably afford to pay upwards of $600 for that unlocked iPhone.
However, the carriers only have themselves to blame for this sad state of affairs. Yes, I understand why most of you would prefer to get a subsidized iPhone real cheap now, and pay for it over time as part of your long-term wireless contract. That’s the reason why so many millions have gotten iPhones. If you were forced to pay three times the price, would Apple be selling tens of millions of copies every quarter? Yes, I realize you do have to pay full price for wireless handsets in some parts of the world.
The larger question, however, is why wireless carriers so seldom consider the customer in coming up with lamebrain policies of this sort. That old adage, “The customer is always right,” has become an obsolete cliche. The MBAs who run those wireless carriers are devoted to enticing you to buy a phone, any phone, and sign up with that long-term contract. After that, they stop caring, unless you fail to pay your bill of course.
What’s more, the inability to understand why you might need to unlock your wireless handset from time to time is only one problem. Consider all those people buying Android OS smartphones who will never, ever, be able to upgrade the OS because the carrier won’t let them. Whatever you think about the iPhone’s competitors, they should be able to take advantage of the latest and greatest features of their chosen OS, and get critical security updates.
So AT&T, by throwing us a crumb, still doesn’t realize we deserve the whole slice of bread.
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