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Verizon and Sprint to offer GSM unlocking of iPhone 4S

updated 02:45 am EDT, Wed October 12, 2011

May pressure AT&T into doing the same

MacWorld Senior Editor Jason Snell is reporting that Sprint plans to offer the iPhone 4S with its micro-SIM slot unlocked, and that Verizon will remove the carrier lock from any iPhone 4S if the customer has been with them for 60 days or more in good standing (and requests an "international unlock"). Apple itself sells the iPhone 4 and 4S (along with 3G iPad) with the micro-SIM "factory" unlocked, but U.S. carriers generally put a "carrier" lock on them to ensure customers don't switch networks easily.

The news that Sprint and Verizon will offer customers an easy way to remove the carrier lock is a first for the U.S. market, and may put pressure on AT&T -- which has traditionally not offered carrier unlocking, although Apple retail stores can now, under certain circumstances, override the simlock -- to offer the service themselves at little or no charge. The change makes the iPhone 4S a true "world phone" for U.S. customers for the first time, with both Sprint and Verizon customers able to buy prepaid micro-SIM cards in the countries they visit, avoiding any international roaming fees.

Customers who just used the iPhone 4S' built-in ability to log into GSM networks without changing the SIM, however, would still see roaming charges that tend to be quite expensive. AT&T customers have been able to use "world roaming" for some time, but roaming charges are much higher than being able to "unlock" a GSM-compatible iPhone and use a pre-paid local micro-SIM in the country users are visiting. The unlocking has no effect within the U.S.; Sprint customers would be unable to switch to T-Mobile by replacing the SIM, for example, as the GSM roaming only works with non-U.S. GSM frequencies.

Apple began selling unlocked GSM iPhone 4 models in June, but at a cost of at least $649, with Verizon customers unable to take advantage of most world networks, which are largely GSM-based. The iPhone 4S is the first iPhone model with both CDMA and GSM compatibility built into a single model.

The iPhone 4S comes with a "roaming SIM" when purchased from Verizon, that allows users to immediately join non-U.S. GSM networks at standard Verizon roaming charges. Verizon's unlocking policy has been in place for other models before, but the iPhone 4S is the first iPhone model that could take advantage of the unlocking offer.

by MacNN Staff



  1. MyRightEye

    Joined: Dec 1969


    If this is true...

    Verizon just won a new customer!

  1. chefpastry

    Joined: Dec 1969



    It's about time AT&T started unlocking iPhones. Especially for those that they have earned back their subsidies on.

  1. Big Mac

    Joined: Dec 1969


    Correction: AT&T Never Unlocks iPhones

    The article states that the move by Verizon and Sprint to offer unlocking "may put pressure on AT&T -- which has traditionally not offered carrier unlocking until the contract has been completed," but that is a factually incorrect quotation. AT&T has in discriminatory fashion a policy that excludes only the iPhone from official unlocking completely - even after the device is no longer under contract. All other AT&T phones are unlocked according to a standard policy similar to the one employed by Verizon, but AT&T refuses to do the same for the iPhone. In settling a class action lawsuit over unfair locking practices, AT&T carved out a narrow exception for the iPhone because it claimed the iPhone was exclusive to AT&T. AT&T also has published on its website that it's "impossible" to unlock the iPhone. And if you call AT&T customer service and ask to talk to manager about the issue, they say that they can't unlock the iPhone because of Apple's non-standard unlocking protocol that they don't have access to. They don't have an answer when it's pointed out that many other carriers succeed at unlocking the iPhone internationally, and now apparently the same will be said for within the US. We need to hold AT&T responsible and get them to stop this unfair, discriminatory practice.

  1. aristotles

    Joined: Dec 1969


    Interesting.. direct competition

    When Canada started getting head to head competition for HSPA handsets like the iPhone between carriers we finally saw not only unlocked iPhones directly from Apple but carriers offered official unlocks either at the end of the contract or after 90 days in good standing.

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