iPhone and the myth of a 2-year contract with AT&T

by Bharat Suneja

Windows Phone 7.5 (‘Mango’) is now available to all customers, a remarkably quick and smooth update this time around. The Windows Phone team has proved it’s learning how to handle updates and work with the number of Windows Phone device manufacturers – Acer, HTC, and Samsung to name a few, and carriers across the world.

I recently lost my Windows Phone, a Samsung Focus updated to Mango. Until I get one of the new crop of Mango phones (the new HTC Titan and Radar look particularly exciting, and I also look forward to the much anticipated Nokia models), I’m using my old iPhone 4 as a backup.

Yes, it’s like taking a step back in time – compared to Mango, iOS seems dated. Mango by far has the best user experience, imo.

Back to the iPhone. As it turns out, the iPhone requires a different data plan than my Windows Phone data plan, and since it’s a temporary change I haven’t bothered to switch plans. I’m paying for a data plan but don’t have data connectivity on my iPhone. I can live with the temporary inconvenience, although the network geek in me tells me there’s something horribly wrong if data plans aren’t interoperable between devices. These are smartphones afterall, and networks did go through standardization processes a decade or two ago.

But what’s even more apalling is AT&T’s take on iPhone use outside of its network – you can’t!

It would be understandable if AT&T locked your phone to its network for the duration of your 2-year contract. However, if you terminate your contract, either by paying an early termination fee or by buying another phone at the full price, you’ve fullifilled your contractual obligation for the old phone. But AT&T refuses to unlock an iPhone, even if you’re no longer in contract!

I learnt the bitter truth while planning an upcoming trip to India. After spending considerable time with an AT&T customer service rep on the phone, I was told AT&T does not unlock iPhones, contract or no contract. If you travel to another country, you can’t simply insert a SIM card from a local carrier and start using a local phone number.

Instead, the agent offered me an international calling plan from AT&T. If I go this route, folks in India would need to make an international call to the U.S. to reach me while I’m in India. And I must pay international calling charges to India while I’m still there.

AT&T statement is quite clear – you can read it here. Here’s what it says:

What is the unlock code for my iPhone?
iPhone cannot be unlocked, even if you are out of contract. If you are traveling internationally, iPhone is a quad-band phone and will work in many countries across the globe. Stay connected while traveling to over 215 countries, plus get discounted rates in over 80 of those countries when you sign up for AT&T World Traveler

The AT&T World TravelerSM plan is $5.99/month, and calls to India are billed at $2.29/minute.

It’s clear that the 2-year contract is a myth as far as the notion of being able to freely use your iPhone on any network is concerned. You may no longer be liable to pay an early termination fee or continue AT&T service at all, but an iPhone sold by AT&T can only be used on its network. Yes, you’re an AT&T customer for life, or at least for the life of the iPhone, as long as you have it. If you travel overseas, too bad. You must either pay AT&T’s international calling charges for local calls you make there, or use another phone.

It may be legal, but it’s neither ethical nor fair.

Comparatively, when asked to unlock another Windows Phone on the same account, it took the agent less than 2 minutes to get the phone’s IMEI and hand over the unlock code, along with instructions on how to use it when I’m traveling.

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Shyam vyas November 13, 2011 at 11:27 pm

This is really horrible experience!!


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