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.