T-Mobile’s claim that AT&T won’t unlock phones has some merit

Today, T-Mobile said it’s been 10 years since it launched its “first Un-carrier move.” And it’s celebrating that anniversary by announcing some new retail offers and taking swipes at its competitors AT&T and Verizon.

It’s calling them out for what it calls “contract creep.” It claims AT&T and Verizon have been quietly extending device contracts from 24 months to 30 months to now 36 months, and that 36 months is now their only option. 

Fierce reached out to both AT&T and Verizon about their contracts.

Verizon confirmed that all its device payment plans are for 36-months at 0% annual percentage rate, or customers can buy their devices outright.

AT&T also said its contracts are 36 months for devices purchased on installment plans.

Analyst Jeff Moore, principal of Wave7 Research, said the word “contract” is almost a profane term among wireless carriers. They’ve mostly switched from talking about contracts to offering device deals where subscribers get a discount on new devices and the ability to pay them off over several months. “Typically, it’s 36 months for Verizon and AT&T, and at T-Mobile it’s mostly 24 months,” said Moore. But he said subscribers always have the ability to pay off their phones and switch to another carrier if they want to because they’re not locked into the hated contracts.

In its announcement today, T-Mobile said AT&T is “worst of all” because customers who are on its device payment plan are locked into using the AT&T network even after they pay off their phones.

Surprisingly, there is some merit to this accusation. AT&T told Fierce, “We will unlock the device if the customer has completed their 36 installment payments, or if it has been at least 60 days since the device was paid for in full.” 

“AT&T’s unlock process rivals a trip to the DMV,” said Mike Katz, T-Mobile’s president of marketing, innovation and experience.

For its part, Verizon said, “All our phones automatically unlock 60 days after activation regardless of if they are paid off or not. We have the best unlock policy in the industry.”


T-Mobile also said today that AT&T and Verizon have “been jacking up prices” a combined nine times in the past year alone.

In fact, AT&T was the first to announce some price increases last summer, when it raised prices on some older wireless plans by up to $6 a month for single-line customers and up to $12 per month for families.

AT&T’s move was then followed by Verizon, which also raised prices for some older plans and boosted an administrative charge on voice lines by $1.35 per line.

While T-Mobile hasn’t raised prices in the last year, Verizon has pointed out a series of moves at the carrier since 2017 to add extra charges, which essentially amount to price hikes.

T-Mobile promotions

Aside from its jabs at AT&T and Verizon, today T-Mobile made a series of announcements to mark its 10-year anniversary as the Un-Carrier, including:

  • A new Go5G Plus plan that gives new and existing customers the same device deals and a new phone offer every two years.
  • An Easy Unlock initiative, which T-Mobile says is designed to help AT&T customers switch to T-Mobile. T-Mobile will still pay off a new subscriber’s phone, up to $650 via a prepaid Mastercard. But with Easy Unlock, it will allow new customers to trade-in their eligible locked device and get a new, free smartphone from T-Mobile.
  • Finally, T-Mobile is offering a Go Back Guarantee. If new customers aren’t satisfied within 30 days, T-Mobile will help them switch back to their previous carrier, giving them a $50 refund per voice line.