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Is the iPhone 4S "world phone" locked or unlocked? And why can't I use an unlocked iPhone 4S with Verizon/Sprint?

20739 Views 63 Replies Latest reply: Nov 13, 2011 5:19 AM by Meg St._Clair RSS Branched to a new discussion.
  • dlim899 Calculating status...

    I called Sprint and Verizon, no one seems to know the definite answer. And, I always get, "we are not at the liberty to discuss in details about the 4s since its not yet released....". However, at the least they tried. But, some say yes, they will unlock the GSM part, so says no they will not. Some even said that the SIM comes already pre-installed and cannot be removed.....lol.

  • Fredric Calculating status...

    I called Apple yesterday to find out how I would use the phone I am getting from Verizon, if I travel abroad. First I spoke to someone in iPhone sales, who told me that I have to wait until November and buy an unlocked phone. I told her very nicely that I believed that was not accurate, and asked to speak to someone else. She transferred me to tech support. That person did not know, and put me on hold while he checked. When he returned, he said he found a support bulletin which advised that I would not require any sim card at all in Europe. He said that the circuitry in the phone would automatically switch to GSM and allow me to roam. It would seem that nobody whom we are able to contact knows yet how all this will work, and we just have to wait until they sort it all out.

  • Michael Black Level 6 Level 6 (17,835 points)

    http://www.verizonwireless.com/b2c/splash/iphone.jsp#whyVerizon

     

    Scroll down to the "Go Global with iPhone 4S" section and click the link for Global Services.  To the extent that a Verizon iPhone 4S can be used as a global phone, Verizon's information is there.

  • Michael Allbritton Level 6 Level 6 (16,150 points)

    I have worked at a software company that develops mobile broadband software for laptops, which use the same radios as are in the iPhones, so perhaps I can provide some insight for folks.

     

    anthrovisual wrote:

     

    After hearing that the iPhone 4S is a "world phone" that can "roam GSM networks in 200 countries around the world," I got to thinking how does this work and what are my options for purchasing with the intent to use the phone with various networks.

     

     

    When they say "roam GSM networks", does this mean that the iPhone 4S is locked to one carrier (GSM or CDMA) but can $roam$ on someone elses network while abroad at a premium price (essentially what AT&T customers could do before I think)?

    Yes. This is exactly what this means.

     

     

    anthrovisual wrote:

     

    Or could it mean that the iPhone 4S is unlocked and I could swap in a GSM SIM chip from another country and use their network at THEIR rates? I'm guessing the former, but a true "world phone" would be the latter.

    This will only be true if you purchase a factory unlocked iPhone directly from Apple which will be available in November. This is from the iPhone pre-order page:

     

    The unlocked iPhone works only on supported GSM networks, such as AT&T in the U.S. When you travel internationally, you can also use a micro-SIM card from a local GSM carrier. The unlocked iPhone will not work with CDMA carriers such as Verizon Wireless or Sprint.

     

    anthrovisual wrote:

     

    Additionally, the iPhone 4S is included on their "About the Unlocked iPhone" ´╗┐and states: "The unlocked iPhone 4 or iPhone 4S will not work with CDMA-based carriers such as Verizon Wireless or Sprint."

     

     

    Assuming that this statement holds true Friday and Apple offers an unlocked iPhone 4S, why doesn't it work with CDMA carriers if it has the CDMA chip to do it? I mean it's obvious that the iPhone 4 cannot, but an unlocked iPhone 4S seems that it should be able to work with either network.

    The statement is true. There are technical limitations to the firmware that are applied to the radio that does not allow for "unlocking" of CDMA phones in the same way that GSM phones can be "unlocked" to work with any GSM carrier. Basically, the firmwares for Verizon and Sprint requires that the radio will then only be able to attach to and work with the selected carrier's network. A GSM radio, on the other hand, can use a generic firmware that allows the phone to attach to and function on any GSM carrier network with the use of a local micro-SIM.

     

    So, in short, if you want to be able to travel internationally with your iPhone 4S and use a micro-SIM from a local carrier then you must purchase a factory unlocked device directly from Apple. A Verizon or Sprint iPhone will never be able to be "unlocked" in the same way a GSM iPhone can because it will require the firmware to be flashed, which is presently beyond the capability of the end-user.

     

    I hope this information is useful.

    MacBook Pro, Mac OS X (10.7.1), 15" 2.3 GHz Intel i7 (early-2011)
  • baseliner Level 1 Level 1 (0 points)

    Michael Allbritton wrote:

     

    So, in short, if you want to be able to travel internationally with your iPhone 4S and use a micro-SIM from a local carrier then you must purchase a factory unlocked device directly from Apple. A Verizon or Sprint iPhone will never be able to be "unlocked" in the same way a GSM iPhone can because it will require the firmware to be flashed, which is presently beyond the capability of the end-user.

     

     

    I think what you're saying is that a Verizon or Sprint iPhone 4S can't be unlocked to work with international CDMA-based carriers. What I'm curious about is if the GSM portion of a Verizon iPhone 4S can be unlocked so that I can use a local SIM while traveling internationally. I'm currently on AT&T but would prefer Verizon service while in the US and the flexibility to use a local SIM while traveling internationally. This would make switching to Verizon a really easy choice for me.

  • Michael Allbritton Level 6 Level 6 (16,150 points)

    baseliner wrote:

     

    I think what you're saying is that a Verizon or Sprint iPhone 4S can't be unlocked to work with international CDMA-based carriers.

    That is correct. Unllke with GSM firmware, which can be generic, CDMA firmware is specific to each carrier. It would require new firmware to be flashed for a, say, Verizon iPhone to work on another carrier's CDMA network, which, as I said, is presently beyond the capabilities of an end-user.

     

     

    baseliner wrote:

     

    What I'm curious about is if the GSM portion of a Verizon iPhone 4S can be unlocked so that I can use a local SIM while traveling internationally. I'm currently on AT&T but would prefer Verizon service while in the US and the flexibility to use a local SIM while traveling internationally. This would make switching to Verizon a really easy choice for me.

    I can't really comment in-depth on this question since we never dealt with this particular use-case, but, based on what I do know, i would say it is probably not possible to do this since the controlling firmware is for a CDMA iPhone.

     

    Again, if someone wants to travel internationally and not roam, but use a local micro-SIM then the best option is to purchase a factory unlocked iPhone directly from Apple.

  • Michael Black Level 6 Level 6 (17,835 points)

    As Meg St._Clair  mentioned earlier in this thread, and in other threads, Verizon can and does currently sometimes unlock the GSM side of some of their dual radio CDMA/GSM phones to be used with foreign carriers SIMs.  CNET and other sites also have reviews of that aspect of some of Verizon's listed global phones.  CNET reviewed "global" cell phone options, plans and features just this past summer.  They specifically mention that while Verizon's default global option involves a SIM from them and roaming on foreign GSM networks, they are also sometimes offering to simply unlock the GSM portion of the phone for customers.  At least for some phones, under some circumstances they have and do truly unlock the GSM features of their dual radio phones so you can use any companies SIM for GSM connectivity while abroad.  The CDMA part of the phone remains carrier-locked to Verizon, although they also have international roaming agreements in a number of countries with CDMA networks.

     

    Whether that feature will be available for the Verizon iPhone 4S (ie. true unlocking of the GSM portion of the phone) remains to be seen.  I'm just saying there is lots of information confirming that it can be done and is being done by Verizon with other dual CDMA/GSM phones.

  • Michael Black Level 6 Level 6 (17,835 points)
  • Michael Black Level 6 Level 6 (17,835 points)
  • baseliner Level 1 Level 1 (0 points)

    Michael Black wrote:

     

    Whether that feature will be available for the Verizon iPhone 4S (ie. true unlocking of the GSM portion of the phone) remains to be seen. 

     

    Yes, that's exactly what I'm waiting for some more info on.. I'm hoping to not have to go the JB route as I had to on my current iPhone w/ AT&T.

  • Michael Allbritton Level 6 Level 6 (16,150 points)

    Here's some new information from Macworld <http://www.americanpressassociation.com/index.php>

    But the iPhone 4S supports both GSM and CDMA networks, and has a micro-SIM card slot no matter which carrier you subscribe to. So if you buy a phone from a CDMA carrier that doesn't use SIM cards, what’s in that slot? The answer is something that’s called a “roaming SIM.” If you're subscribed to a CDMA carrier in the states, when you travel internationally, your device can now switch to an international GSM network using a micro-SIM card. In other words, when outside the U.S., you can still get phone calls to your regular number and connect to the Internet, thanks to a micro-SIM that connects to Sprint and Verizon’s partner wireless networks in those countries—all at much higher rates than in the U.S., of course.

     

     

    And this, I think, answers the original question:

    But there’s a new wrinkle that potentially makes the international-roaming experience better on Sprint and Verizon iPhones than it is on AT&T. Sprint plans to sell the iPhone 4S with its micro-SIM slot unlocked; Verizon’s will be initially locked, but if you’ve been a customer in good standing for 60 days, you can call Verizon and ask for an “international unlock.” (A Verizon spokesperson told me that this is Verizon’s standard policy for all world phones—it’s just the first time it’s manifested itself on an iPhone.)

    As the article says, though, the disadvantage is you won't be able to recieve calls at your Verizon or Sprint phone number if using an international micro-SIM.

    MacBook Pro, Mac OS X (10.7.1), 15" 2.3 GHz Intel i7 (early-2011)
  • baseliner Level 1 Level 1 (0 points)

    That's great info, thanks! Guessing you meant to paste this URL: http://www.macworld.com/article/162960/2011/10/how_international_is_the_iphone_4 s_world_phone_.html

     

    Now if only someone here could verify that Verizon is holding true to their word and unlocking the GSM slot after 60 days on the iPhone 4s.. (presume they would if they're saying they're going to treat this like their other world phones).. this is a real incentive for me (and I suspect several other folks who travel internationally) to switch from AT&T to Verizon!

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