Let me say, at the start, that I currently have, in my hands, an iPhone 4s that originated with Sprint, and it is currently activated on the Net10 carrier and functioning, and the device has never been “jailbroken,” nor has any GPP chip, or any other strange, after-market SIM card, been used or needed. That’s just for sake of clarity and so you can trust that this article is not leading you on any wild goose chase.
Before we ever left Sprint, I called them to talk about options for lowering our monthly bill. We had been excellent Sprint customers for between 9 and 10 years. I was told that there was no way to lower our bill on their post-paid service, but that by going with their pre-paid service we could get a better deal. However, I was told that our current iPhones (two of them, a 4 and a 4s), which were purchased through Sprint contracts and were fully paid-for and owned by us, would not be accepted on Sprint’s pre-paid service; I was told by the Sprint rep that we would need to buy new phones. Seriously? Furthermore, I was told there was absolutely no way to switch us over from Sprint post-paid to Sprint pre-paid by a phone call to Sprint: the only option was to physically go to a Sprint store.
At that point I pressed until I was permitted to speak to a proclaimed supervisor. He indicated that it was perhaps possible that I might be able to get our current iPhones switched over (unlocked) for use with Sprint’s pre-paid service, but, if so, it would only be by physically going to a Sprint store. I pressed more. He insisted, supporting the earlier rep’s claim that there was absolutely no way to switch us over to pre-paid without physically going to a Sprint store. (While that may be Sprint’s policy decision, it is not because of any genuine technological need to physically go to a store. They could do this over the phone if they wanted to.) I made clear to him that if Sprint did not lower our monthly bill during that current call, I would soon be leaving Sprint by porting our numbers to another carrier. He essentially conveyed, so sorry; no can do; so long.
I then called back (connecting with a different employee, of course) and said I wanted to have my Sprint iPhone 4 and Sprint iPhone 4s unlocked. I was still in service with them at that time, with the account paid up and in good standing. I told the rep that both phones were fully paid for, their contracts were satisfied, and I wanted them unlocked. The rep put me on hold, then eventually came back and verbally gave me an “unlock code” for the iPhone 4.
- Error/Deception #1:
“Let us get you that MSL code.”
For an iPhone, an “unlock code” (also known as an “MSL code”) is worthless. The MSL code cannot be used to unlock an iPhone. According to Apple’s website, the only way to unlock an iPhone is for the carrier of the device’s origin to send in a request to Apple to unlock the device, which results in a change in a database maintained by Apple. Anyone who knows their stuff knows this. So, is this offer (made to me by multiple Sprint employees) merely an indication of their ignorance? Or is this a less-than-honest tactic? Whether through deceit or ignorance, often Sprint employees seem to think that giving out the MSL code is the thing to do. It usually satisfies the caller and gets them off the line!
Interestingly, after more hold time, the rep told me that he could not get the “unlock code” (MSL code) for my iPhone 4s. He said it could not be unlocked except for international use on Sprint’s overseas network (which uses a GSM network instead of a CDMA network). The key point here is that when I asked about it being unlocked, while I was still in service with them, I was told no.
Over time, I have been given a litany of so-called “reasons” by various Sprint employees as to why they either could not, or would not, unlock my iPhone 4s. All were either “mistaken” statements or outright lies. I made requests both while I was in service with them (with the contract satisfied and the account paid up and in good standing) and after having left Sprint. Here are a couple of examples:
- Error/Deception #2:
“It’s impossible to switch an iPhone to another carrier, due to incompatibility.”
In the alternate reality where Sprint and its mal-trained employees live, an iPhone that originated with Sprint can only communicate with Sprint’s network, which is a CDMA network, therefore the phone can only work as a Sprint device. They imply that the device’s hardwired frequencies are supposedly unique to Sprint. This is a clever deception. The truth is, other carriers can and do provide service for devices that originated with Sprint, some by the fact that they lease cell tower time from Sprint. Thus, you can do business with other carriers, such as Net10 or Ting, using a device that came from Sprint, and have smartphone service for about half the money you were paying to Sprint. Yet the Sprint employee, reading from a carefully-crafted narrative written either by the devil himself or a lawyer that is a close cousin to the devil, would have you believe that, basically, outside of their network, a Sprint iPhone 4 is good for nothing; an expensive paperweight (it is not large enough or heavy enough to be a doorstop). The way Sprint treats its customers over this causes their devices to be less valuable in the resale market. Regardless, I would never want to resell it to someone (resulting in another Sprint customer), because I would not wish Sprint’s service and policies on my worst enemy! Bottom line: Sprint leaves one with the understanding that the device’s only possible use is via wi-fi as an expensive, makeshift “iPod.” The Sprint iPhone 4 has only a CDMA radio. The 4s is the same regarding its CDMA radio and its frequencies, but different because it has a GSM radio too, which was placed there for overseas use. However, in theory its GSM radio could be used domestically, yet only if one can get it freed up by Sprint.
After porting my numbers away from Sprint, I did some more online research and found claims (for instance, here) of people saying they convinced Sprint to unlock a 4s. However, disregard all such mentions of Sprint having given out an “unlock code,” as those codes are useless. One post I found spoke of the need to have Sprint remove a “CDMA carrier flag” from the iPhone 4s, and, regarding the GSM radio in the 4s, asking Sprint to send in a request to Apple to unlock the phone. That seems like the valid way to do it, but all my direct requests to Sprint employees for that, have resulted in flat refusals. Some reports have mistakenly indicated that all unlocking has to be done while the phone is still in service with Sprint. That is incorrect. That policy only applies to Sprint unlocking the GSM radio in an iPhone for overseas use on foreign carriers via SIM card. Still, it is noteworthy that I had requested an unlock of my 4s while it was still in service with Sprint, yet I was refused. (Regarding the fact that I later tried some more, calling Sprint again after porting my number out, it also should be noted that a Sprint employee could, if they wanted to, temporarily and remotely reactivate any deactivated Sprint phone that has been unaffected since deactivation. One of their employees had done that for me before in unrelated work.) However, the ultimate answer to that is the policy only applies to requests for Sprint to unlock the GSM radio for overseas use, which has nothing to do with unlocking it for domestic use.
Sprint employees have told me they “have never contacted Apple,” that “it is not something [they] do,” that they “don’t have any way to do that,” and they “don’t have any procedure for doing that,” and finally, the grand poobah of all such lies: one Sprint employee actually told me “it’s against the law” for him to have Apple unlock the device!
- Error/Deception #3:
“It’s illegal for us to have Apple unlock the iPhone for you.”
There is a decent law currently on the books, that, in effect, prevents, say, Carrier B from causing Apple to unlock a device that is still with Carrier A—the device’s carrier of origin. However, nothing in that law prevents Sprint from having Apple unlock a device that originated with Sprint! Yet in the alternate reality in which Sprint and its mal-trained employees live, some employees claim that the law actually prevents Carrier A from unlocking a device that originated with Carrier A. Ludicrous!
On Sunday, February 2, 2014, I spent more time on the phone (and on hold several times) with Sprint, eventually speaking to three different people, of which the first (Chloe) and third (Amanda) were those whose names I could understand well enough to include here.
Previously, a rep named Kimberly had given me what she said was “the direct number for the Tech Team” (855-899-7924). I decided to call that number. Not surprisingly, it did not lead to the Tech Team, but rather to a normal rep, named Chloe. She listened to my explanation and plea, found my account record, validated my identity, and then told me I needed to speak to the Tech Team. She put me through. After some time on hold, someone (ostensibly from the Tech Team) answered. She also (again) listened to my explanation and plea, found my account record, validated my identity, and then told me I needed to speak to the International Team. She put me through. After some more time on hold, someone from the International Team picked up. Her name was Amanda. She also (for my third time in that call) listened to my explanation and plea, found my account record, validated my identity, and then spent some time trying to discern exactly which device in their system I was calling about. She then set about trying to find out when it was purchased.
Based on my research, I had mentioned the FCC chairman’s letter and the subsequent announcement by the major carriers to voluntarily comply, and I had then asked for the “CDMA carrier flag” to be removed from my iPhone 4s, and, regarding its GSM radio, I asked for her to send in a request to Apple to unlock the phone. Amanda flatly told me that she does not ever send in requests to Apple. She said it’s not something they do.
Amanda then stated that if my phone was purchased and shipped on or before November 11, 2011 (easy to remember: 11-11-11) that my phone already had its GSM radio unlocked by the Apple factory before shipment—though only for international use, not for domestic use. Pay attention to that last part. She was not telling me that Apple has my phone listed as unlocked. Apple only has it listed such that an overseas SIM card will work, and that can only happen if I actually have the phone overseas and activate a foreign-bought SIM card for overseas use.
I told Amanda that I had read of other carriers routinely sending unlock requests to Apple to modify the database record of a certain phone [which facilitates what in this industry is called a “factory unlock”] and I indicated that was what I wanted to be done for my iPhone. She indicated that they just don’t do that. I advised her that, based on my reading of the joint announcement by major carriers including hers, her information seemed obsolete. She stated that she “apologized.” She still refused to offer to contact Apple.
After I hung up, I went to the Net10 website and ordered a domestic SIM card and activation kit on the chance that it just might work for this iPhone 4s. (If not, the items would be useful for some other device in the future.) Net10’s limited-time promotion offered free overnight shipping. The SIM card and service activation kit arrived Wednesday, February 5.
Update (as of Thursday, February 6):
Yesterday and today (Feb. 5-6) have been a techno-yoyo, a bit of a roller coaster, regarding cell phone activation efforts and hopes. When the SIM card arrived yesterday, I installed it according the instructions, and I called Net10, a carrier that supports both GSM network access and CDMA network access (basically via cell tower time leased from major carriers such as AT&T, Sprint, etc). Some of my reasoning for going ahead and ordering the SIM card was this: while I’m no mobile-network expert, it seemed that if a SIM card can reprogram the radio, then it can reprogram the radio. I figured that if I was wrong, and I found that the phone is still domestically limited to Sprint-only use (because of a database somewhere, apparently at Apple), then I will continue to pursue having Sprint unlock it. I figured that sooner or later I would need the SIM card anyway. I fully expected to get this 4s working on some GSM carrier (some company other than Sprint) sooner or later—hopefully sooner.
The SIM card was immediately recognized by the iPhone, but the SIM was found to be “not valid.” I called Net10, and a helpful employee told me that I needed to abandon the GSM approach, and let Net10 use the iPhone’s CDMA radio. She said this would work. It would require an access code that costs $14.99 (with tax and fees it came to $15.89). I used a credit card over the phone and bought that code. She went through the steps to transfer the desired number to the iPhone. We ended the call with certain instructions about what I was to do.
I followed the directions, but the phone never started working, and continued to say “Sprint” in the connection area. I called Net10 back. After I was transferred from one to another, and then another, of Net10’s help staff, one of them finally told me that he thought it would never work, because, he feared, the iPhone had never been unlocked.
By this time it was too late at night to keep bothering with it. I decided to wait until the next day and try to have Net10 switch our number back to the Net10 Android we were using for it.
The next day, Feb. 6, I called Net10 back for the above stated purpose. I wish I had just checked the iPhone. I wish I had just tried to dial a call. Unbeknown to me, it had activated during the night, and it was working! But the night before, the Net10 website had told me the pairing (of the phone number to the phone) was classed as a “fail.” That, combined with the words of the tech support agent who told me it would not work, caused me to give up on it.
I had Net10 switch the number away from the iPhone. As soon as I hung up from doing so, I noticed some text messages had arrived on the iPhone during the night. They seemed to be intended for my wife. (It’s her number that we had moved to the iPhone.) I grew hopeful. I picked up the phone, and dialed my own cell. The call went through, and the caller ID showed my wife’s number as the incoming caller!
I then called Net10 back and asked them to cancel the re-moving of the number. They did not succeed in that, but they were willing to do a re-re-moving of the number! (Is that even a word?) I don’t remember how many Net10 customer service reps I spoke to on this date, but it was somewhere around three to four. I do remember which one finally got it done for me: Kendra. Kudos to you madam!
Important note about the “service update code” supplied by Net10 employees:
All the Net10 employees told me to use the following code to get the service update to happen on the phone:
Dial ##72786# and press the “send” button. — NO GOOD.
However, that does not do anything of value. I remembered that during my many previous calls to Sprint, one of the reps had told me a service update code as follows:
Dial ##873283# and press the “send” button. — WORKS.
Whenever the former code is used then a call gets placed, and a prerecorded voice tells you that you’re not able to place a call. Whenever the latter code is used, you see this hope-inspiring message:
Honestly, I don’t know whether that service update code helped or was in any way necessary, but if so, then my article would be incomplete without it. So, I am including it here.
Within about 90 minutes of Kendra (of Net10) making the number switch back to the iPhone (and after me repeatedly applying the latter service update code mentioned above), I got the following message on the iPhone in focus:
Notice that in the service area it again states “Sprint” as the network, but the phone is with Net10, for about half the price of Sprint! The mention of Sprint in the service area (upper left corner) is apparently due to the fact that Net10 is leasing cell tower time from Sprint. I’m fine with that.
I should add two important notes:
- After successful activation of an iPhone on Net10’s “BYOP” (Bring Your Own Phone) option, you need to make another call to them and have them help you do something called “update the APN” so you get full advantage of services on the iPhone.
- While I was on the phone in the latest call with Net10, Kendra told me that a memo had come through just today, saying that Sprint iPhone 4 and Sprint iPhone 4s devices were compatible with Net10. This was presumably a result of high-level negotiations between Sprint and Net10’s parent company.
- It seems clear that Sprint can somehow convey to Net10 whether a formerly Sprint device is cleared (contract satisfied, bill paid) and allowed to be used in service with Net10. A full and proper unlocking (a factory unlock from Sprint via Apple) is not needed to use the device with such companies that buy wholesale minutes on Sprint’s towers. A full unlock is still the right thing for Sprint to do, but it is unneeded for use on Ting and Net10, etc.
- I will now be working to activate my iPhone 4 that also originated with Sprint.
I later succeeded in getting our iPhone 4 (note: now both 4s and 4) activated with Net10 also. On both these phones I did not need to bother with convincing Sprint to admit to me that they had contacted Apple. (After many tries, I’m convinced their corporate culture won’t allow it.) Net10 apparently has an agreement with Sprint that makes it unnecessary, but both phones are now fully functional on a different carrier, for about half the cost of Sprint.