I gave an iPhone 3G to a friend who lives in Dubai. At the time, it was carrier locked to at&t. I have since submitted a request here in the U.S. to unlock it, and the request was approved by at&t. For some reason, he's having trouble getting it to unlock, and I think I know why.

Am I correct in assuming that he needs to have access to an at&t tower in order for the phone to talk to it and grab the updated carrier settings, which would then unlock the device?

If so, this is obviously an impossibility in Dubai. My workaround solution to get him an unlocked iPhone is to send him the one I just unlocked here in the States.

Would love to know if there's a way he can unlock remotely (perhaps drive near a partner/roaming tower?) if at all possible.

Meantime, I also performed the same procedure on an iPhone 3GS I had sitting around and found that the unlock occurred after it talked to the at&t tower. "Carrier settings updated" was the title of the message. Phone says "No Service" but I have to presume it's now unlocked since the carrier settings have been updated.

Any cell network pros out there know how this works?


  • In the old days, you used to get a code you could punch into the dialer that would unlock the device—but in that scenario I'm not sure whether a tower was required or whether you could do it in an area that had no service. Commented Jul 28, 2015 at 22:44

2 Answers 2


iPhone unlock is a remote process done by your carrier directly with Apple.

From Apple Support:

After your carrier confirms that your iPhone unlock has been processed (…)

If you have a SIM card from a carrier other than your current carrier, follow these steps:

  1. Remove your SIM card and insert the new SIM card.
  2. Complete the setup process.

If you don't have another SIM card you can use, follow these steps to complete the process:

  1. Back up your iPhone.
  2. When you have a backup, erase your iPhone.
  3. Restore your iPhone from the backup you just made.

It does not mention anything on having to be on an area covered by your original carrier, but the process apparently needs internet.

(…) contacts the registration database (…) to determine the lock status and set the appropriate carrier settings file if needed.

See this question for additional information.


There are multiple ways of going about unlocking an iPhone. First, you can contact AT&T if you are a current customer who is eligible for an unlock. This process can take up to several weeks. The second way is going through a third party service such as http://www.unlockingofficial.com to have them unlock it for you. Services like this are usually very quick. From experience it took them only 2 hrs for the phone to be unlocked.

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