In June 2011, Apple started selling an unlocked iPhone 4 in the U.S. Most most phones, including iPhones, are sold with what's called a SIM lock. This is software that ties use of the phone to the cell phone company that you buy it through. Unlocked phones, though, don't have this SIM lock, meaning that you can use them on any compatible cell phone network, as long as you have a service plan with that company. Here are the answers to the most common questions about the unlocked iPhone.
What Models Are Available?
Apple is currently selling unlocked versions of the iPhone 4, in both 16GB and 32GB models. Both white and black models are also available.
What Is the Price?
16GB - US$649
32GB - $749
Buying from AT&T/Verizon Is So Much Cheaper! Why?
The prices that AT&T, Verizon, and many other cell phone companies around the world charge for iPhones are subsidized. This means that the cell phone companies are paying part of the cost of the phone in exchange for the customer signing a contract with them (usually two years, but some carriers offer 12 and 18 month plans, too). Because the companies are assured of the customer's business for the length of the contract, they pay part of the cost of the phone to attract customers.
The $649 and $749 prices are the true retail cost of the iPhone when no one is subsidizing it. Remember, when the iPhone first launched, it wasn't subsidized and cost about this much.
Where Do I Buy an Unlocked iPhone 4?
Direct from Apple's online store.
Do the Unlocked iPhones Include a SIM?
No. The unlocked iPhone 4s Apple is selling come without a SIM card. You'll need to supply your own.
What is the Size of the iPhone 4 SIM?
The iPhone uses the microSIM format, so you'll need to get a SIM that size from whatever phone company you plan to use the iPhone with.
Can I Use the Phone with More Than One Carrier at the Same Time?
Yes. As long as you've got an active SIM from both carriers, and switch the SIMs when you want to switch carriers, you can use multiple phone companies.
Will the microSIM From the iPad 3G Work With This Phone?
No, according to Apple. Though both are microSIMs, the company says that the SIM from the iPad does not work in the iPhone 4.
The unlocked iPhone 4 is the GSM (Global System for Mobile Communications) version, so it is only compatible with GSM and UMTS/HSDPA/HSUPA networks (i.e., not CDMA networks).
Network Bands Used
The iPhone 4 works on the following networks and frequencies:
- 850 Mhz
- 900 Mhz
- 1800 Mhz
- 1900 Mhz
- 850 Mhz
- 900 Mhz
- 1900 Mhz
- 2100 Mhz
Use in the U.S.
In the U.S. unlocked GSM iPhone 4s work on two cell phone company networks: AT&T and T-Mobile. They do not work on Verizon or Sprint, since those companies use CDMA networks. While all standard iPhone features are available to users of unlocked iPhones when using AT&T, this isn't true when using T-Mobile.
Because T-Mobile uses different GSM frequencies (1700 Mhz and 2100 Mhz) for its high-speed 3G network than AT&T, the iPhone 4 can only access the slower EDGE network when connected to T-Mobile. Some other network-specific features, like Visual Voicemail, also do not work on T-Mobile.
Use Outside the U.S.
These phones are only being sold to buyers in the U.S. currently. That said, if you can get ahold of one overseas, or if unlocked iPhones are already for sale in your country (some countries have laws that require them to be available), all you'll need to do is find a local carrier with a compatible network and follow the activation process below.
Activating an Unlocked iPhone 4
To activate an unlocked iPhone, you must first have a working microSIM from a compatible cell phone provider. Insert the microSIM and then connect the phone to a computer running iTunes to complete the activation process.
Because these phones are unlocked and not tied to any one cell phone carrier, there is no fixed contract length. As a result, you're able to pay month-to-month with whatever compatible cell phone company you prefer to use.
Now that Unlocked iPhones Are For Sale, Will AT&T Unlock My Existing iPhone?
If you're already an iPhone 4 owner using AT&T in the U.S., you may wondering if you can now officially unlock your iPhone. Currently, it seems that AT&T will not unlock iPhone 4s purchased through them even if they are out of contract.
Are These Phones Jailbroken?
No. While jailbreaking and unlocking often go hand in hand, in this case the phones are only unlocked. As a result, while you can use them on whatever compatible carrier you choose, you're still bound to use the App Store and other official Apple systems for software. You cannot install your own apps, like those from Cydia, without also jailbreaking these phones.