Unlocked iPhone 4S: What You Need to Know

| TMO Quick Tip

Apple began accepting preorders for the new iPhone 4S on Friday, and while the phone includes everything it needs to work on GMS networks like AT&T, along with CDMA networks like Verizon, it’s still locked to a single service provider. Just as it did with the iPhone 4, Apple will be offering an unlocked version of the iPhone 4S, but there are a few limitations. Read on to see what you need to know about the unlocked iPhone 4S.

iPhone 4SApple’s new iPhone 4S

Availability The carrier-locked version of the iPhone 4S will ship on October 14, but the unlocked version won’t be available until some time in November. Apple isn’t saying exactly when in November its new smartphone will make it into customer’s hands.

Compatibility Just because Apple designed the iPhone 4S to be compatible with CDMA and GSM networks doesn’t mean everyone gets to take advantage of that. The unlocked iPhone 4S will be compatible only with GSM-based cell services, so that leaves carriers like Verizon and Sprint on the sidelines.

Like the iPhone 4, the iPhone 4S uses a micro-SIM card for GMS cell networks. If you plan on traveling internationally with your iPhone, you’ll be able to pick up a micro-SIM from local carriers to avoid expensive international roaming charges.

Some cell services aren’t fully compatible with the iPhone, so not all of the phone’s features may work. Visual Voice Mail, for example, isn’t available through carriers that aren’t already Apple partners, and T-Mobile’s network in the U.S. doesn’t support the iPhone’s 3G data frequencies so you’ll be limited to EDGE speeds.

Price Looking for a US$199 iPhone 4S? Don’t look at the unlocked model. The unlocked iPhone 4S doesn’t include carrier subsidies, so you’ll have to pay full price. That means $649 for the 16GB model, $749 for the 32GB version, and $849 for the 64GB model.

If you’re fine with the price of an unlocked iPhone, you don’t have to sign two-year contracts for service.

The iPhone 4S is available for preorder through the Apple Web site.

Comments

Jimbode

Surely you mean the GSM network? Global System for Mobile communications.

ilikeimac

Does “carrier locked” still mean that I can’t use my subsidized iPhone on another carrier? Or does it now merely mean “carrier subsidized?”

To elaborate, can I take my AT&T subsidized iPhone on an overseas trip where I buy a month of service from some foreign carrier, swap in a different SIM card and use my phone with an overseas number for the duration of the trip? This would be in addition to paying my contractual AT&T fees for the same month. A similar scenario might involve travel to a place where AT&T has little or no coverage so I want to buy some temporary contract-free Verizon plan.

Based on this article I guess that’s only possible with the unlocked, unsubsidized iPhone, and that phone won’t work with Verizon. So I wonder what the point of calling this a “world phone” is.

dlstarr7

Based on this article I guess that?s only possible with the unlocked, unsubsidized iPhone, and that phone won?t work with Verizon. So I wonder what the point of calling this a ?world phone? is.

Because GSM is used by cell phone companies world-wide, and you can put a MicroSIM from the country you are visiting in it, and it will work.

ilikeimac

you can put a MicroSIM from the country you are visiting in it, and it will work

But only on the unsubsidized iPhone 4S. Apple’s specs page for the iPhone 4S page states “World Phone” without any disclaimer or even an asterisk. It then proudly lists HSPDA+, GSM, and CDMA in sequence with features like WiFi and Bluetooth as if every phone has all these capabilities, not side by side like other mutually exclusive options (white/black, 16/32/64 GB).

I’m content with the limitations, but Apple is being less upfront about these limitations than usual and that bothers me. As is, the world phone feature may help streamline production, which has intangible customer benefits, but doesn’t benefit customers enough to warrant a bullet point.

Axel Toolkit

With an unlocked GSM phone, you just need to swap the SIM to change carriers. CDMA is not designed that way and the carriers’ call centers need to be involved if you want to “untie” your CDMA phone from its carrier of origin and attach it to another one. And some parameters would need to be changed on the phone, most probably Nothing transparent here (ever tried to tie a Verizon phone to a Sprint contract?). So a CDMA phone is never really unlocked, and the limitation is not Apple’s but CDMA’s.
Some Verizon or Sprint world phones have a GSM radio and a GSM SIM card in addition to their CDMA radios. When you travel abroad it’s using the GSM radio and it’s roaming, at $1.25 per minute of course. My CDMA worldphone is not even locked when operating in a foreign country on GSM (but I can not use GSM in the US).
I don’t see why Verizon or Spring would not insert their own SIMs in the iPhones, and let them roam on GSM with their partners at $1.25/min.

iVoid

Right now, I’d pay the extra to get an unlocked phone and go with Sprint or Verizon (real bad reception for AT&T at my work and a little spotty at home).

But I see no point in getting a unlocked phone if I’m locked to AT&T in the US anyway.

I’m going to be doing some asking about this before making a purchase decision.

My hope is that maybe, just maybe, the Verizon/Sprint iPhone 4S is locked on the CMDA side (don’t really care about that) and unlocked on the GSM side (so that After my 2 year commitment I can go where I want and I can use it internationally (I travel a lot).

DMO

I think a “world phone” means it can be used world wide.  If you have a CDMA phone there are places without CDMA service where it is useless.  The iPhone would hopefully work in such places using the GSM connection through a local carrier that has a roaming contract with your CDMA carrier, albeit at the “international roaming rates”.

<<My hope is that maybe, just maybe, the Verizon/Sprint iPhone 4S is locked on the CMDA side (don?t really care about that) and unlocked on the GSM side (so that After my 2 year commitment I can go where I want and I can use it internationally (I travel a lot).>>

That would be awesome, but I doubt it will work.

Terrin

That pretty much sums the difference up.

With an unlocked GSM phone, you just need to swap the SIM to change carriers. CDMA is not designed that way and the carriers? call centers need to be involved if you want to ?untie? your CDMA phone from its carrier of origin and attach it to another one.

T-Mobiler

Here’s how I look at it…

I’m a T-Mobile Pay-As-You-Go user and only use about $300 per YEAR (3,000 mintues).  Don’t want a contract or the $55 PLUS text fees per MONTH that AT&T offers as their cheapest plan.

But, I do want an iPhone 4S with the new 8MP camera and Siri. I can get WiFi access for free almost anywhere, so the big key for me is NO HIGH PRICED MONTHLY CONTRACT.

Buying an unlocked 4S makes sense at less than $15 a month for the phone itself over 4 years ($700/48=$14.58), plus the $25 a month I use in prepaided minutes.  And I can simply slap a SIM card in there when traveling over seas.

Futher more, Walmart now offers a $45 a month UNLIMITED TALK & TEXT NO CONTRACT plan through T-Mobile that I can use if I want to up my usage and family members can be added for only $25 each.  Data is available for $0.04/MB on a Pay-As-You-Go card that rolls over and can be used by ALL plan members.  I use WiFi for internet, so data isn’t an major need for me, but it’s nice to know I can get it without a contract.

Not being a current iPhone user, am I wrong in assuming that the WiFi ability can connect to my home WiFi and free WiFi networks that are everywhere?

ilikeimac

Not being a current iPhone user, am I wrong in assuming that the WiFi ability can connect to my home WiFi and free WiFi networks that are everywhere?

Yes, the iPhone certainly can connect to any WiFi network, but not all public wifi networks are free. Public WiFi hotspots that cost money will typically have no password to connect, but they redirect your web browser to their payment screen when you load a web page.

T-Mobiler

So the unlocked 4S is basically a “Micro-Mini WiFi Tablet” that can also make phone calls, take great pictures and do voice to text, with or without a contract.

That IS cool!  wink

ilikeimac

Great news for Sprint and Verizon customers regarding international roaming: How international is the iPhone 4S ‘world phone?’

So the unlocked 4S is basically a ?Micro-Mini WiFi Tablet? that can also make phone calls, take great pictures and do voice to text, with or without a contract.

Yes, but dictation, and some if not all Siri features require an internet connection. And hopping between WiFi hotspots isn’t nearly as seamless as going from cell tower to cell tower.

T-Mobiler

Thanks ilikimac.

I wonder how well Siri will take notes in a classroom environment if just left on during a lecture?

Also, what features do you have the ability to turn on/off?  I’m skeptical of anything “cloud” because of privacy issues.  Can that be turned off completely?  How about the constant location tagging? Etc…

ilikeimac

I wonder how well Siri will take notes in a classroom environment if just left on during a lecture?

Very poorly I’d imagine.

what features do you have the ability to turn on/off?

Lots of things can be disabled or enabled on the iPhone, and location services can be disabled on a per-app basis.

For more (or better) information about the iPhone 4S or iOS you might try some forums like TMO’s own iObserver forum, or Apple’s Support Discussions. You might be able to find other people who use iPhones without data plans and see what their experiences are like.

Jurg de Bruijn

For me personally it doesnt matter if they ship it unlocked. I have all my iphones unlocked and jailbroken because im away on biz in canada and the usa most of the time. To make sure i dont get a HUGE phonebill i always unlock mine online. There are lots of sites that offer a safe way to unlock and jailbreak your iphone like unlocking iphone 4s. Im still waiting for the 4s unlock and jailbreak to come out, if it does i will let you guys know here.

Julianne

I have a question. Is this saying that I could only text others who have an iPhone?

ilikeimac

I have a question. Is this saying that I could only text others who have an iPhone?

No. You can text anyone from an iPhone (carrier fees apply), and you can iMessage anyone with an iPhone that has the iOS 5 software update (using Wi-Fi or your 3G data connection making it free or extremely inexpensive compared to texting).

The distinction between “locked” and “unlocked” phones is that “unlocked” iPhones have no contract, so you can discontinue your service or change carriers at any time.

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