AT&T's off-contract iPhone 5 can be unlocked with an easy reset

Carrier's unsubsidized iPhones can be unlocked with a simple iTunes reset, bypassing a process that includes filing out an online form and waiting a week for approval.

Off-contract AT&T iPhone owners can skip waiting for the carrier to unlock their smartphones Josh Lowensohn/CNET

One would think that if you bought an iPhone 5 at full price and off-contract that it would already be unlocked. Apparently, that is only partially correct.

While Verizon sells Apple's next-generation smartphone at full price already unlocked out of the box, that is apparently not the case with AT&T. Normally, AT&T customers who opt to pay the full $649 price instead of agreeing to a two-year contract for a subsidized iPhone must follow a lengthy process to get handset unlocked.

Those AT&T customers must fill out a Web form, send a fax to AT&T, and wait as long as a week for word on whether it will allow the device to be unlocked.

However, it now appears that unsubsidized AT&T iPhones ship unlocked and that off-contract customers can save a lot of hassle and time by simply restoring the device in iTunes.

This little bypass was first reported by Tech Crunch, which says it confirmed the process with AT&T technical support and successfully reset an iPhone 5 with a T-Mobile SIM card, getting the usual unlock message: "Congratulations, your iPhone has been unlocked."

iPhone users can confirm the unlock by swapping in another GSM-compatible SIM card, Tech Crunch's Romain Dillet explained:

After receiving the notification my new iPhone was unlocked, I cut a micro-SIM card into the shape of a nano-SIM by using the AT&T SIM card that was already in the iPhone 5 as a guide. The most difficult part was to make it narrower so that you can close the tiny nano-SIM tray, though some have reported that this step may be optional. In a couple of seconds, the iPhone was able to pick up the T-Mobile network, and calls and EDGE data connectivity worked as expected.

CNET has not had the opportunity to independently verify that the reset process unlocks the phone, but the iTunes reset is necessary during an AT&T-approved unlock as well. It's unknown why AT&T would make customers go through the trouble of filing a request with the carrier when it could easily perform the process itself, or post the instructions online.

CNET has contacted AT&T for comment and will update this report when we learn more.

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