Sprint unlocks iPhone 4S SIM card confusion

Summary:Sprint's iPhone 4S may be a "world phone" but you won't be able to enjoy local (read: cheap) GSM rates when you're abroad. Here's why not.

Sprint unlocks iPhone 4S SIM card confusion. Image by Gloria Sin

Sprint unlocks iPhone 4S SIM card confusion. Image by Gloria Sin

If you're still debating which carrier to get your iPhone 4 this morning, here is some clarification on Sprint's policy on the micro-SIM card included with the world phone, which may be just the tie-breaker you need to pick a line to park yourself in a few hours.

There has been some confusion over how this supposedly travel-friendly iPhone 4S will work as Apple is also selling an officially unlocked (and carrier-agnostic) version that won't be available till November. Although the iPhone 4S has both the CDMA and GSM antennae, that does not mean American users will be able to switch from Verizon to T-Mobile's upcoming $30 smartphone plan from Walmart, for example.

According to a statement Macworld obtained rom Sprint's spokesperson Michelle Mermelstein:

Sprint’s policy is to have the iPhone 4S SIM locked to our network domestically and internationally. At launch, the International SIM will be unlocked. We do expect a SIM lock to be pushed to the devices shortly after launch. We will then allow existing customers in good standing to unlock the SIM for international use if needed in the future.

In other words, the unlocked SIM card that comes with Sprint's iPhone 4S will be short-lived as it will become locked via an over-the-air update soon, and will only be unlocked if your account is on good terms.

Verizon's policy is a bit more clear cut: the micro-SIM card will be sold locked and will only be unlocked upon request after 60 days and if you've been a responsible customer.

AT&T's iPhone 4S will be locked to its own GSM network, and when you travel, you will have to pay AT&T and its international partners for roaming.

It's important to remember unlocking the micro-SIM card to use on GSM networks outside of the U.S. for travel, is not the same as Apple's unlocked iPhone 4S that will work on any GSM network in America. ("The unlocked iPhone will not work with CDMA carriers such as Verizon Wireless or Sprint," as stated on Apple's website.) Having an unlocked SIM card just means if you have an iPhone 4S from Sprint for example, you can use your phone when you're in Europe, but will still have to pay Sprint for the use of their international GSM partner's network on a "pay as you go basis" (check their website for details). With Apple's iPhone 4S, you can pop in a local SIM card and pay local usage fees only, which are probably lower than whatever you pay at home.

Whether you go with AT&T, Sprint or Verizon, you will basically be beholden to whatever roaming fees these carriers want to charge you when you travel, despite the fact the iPhone 4S is technically a world phone. If you're a frequent flyer, I still maintain the Apple unlocked iPhone 4S is your best bet, even though you would have to settle for less speed and generous service plans domestically. But first things first: good luck getting your iPhone 4S today!

[Source: Macworld via CNET, Ars Technica]

Updated @ 8:25 am PT: To further clarify Sprint's position on unlocked SIM for travel, here is an excerpt from Ars Technica's interview with Sprint rep Michelle Mermelstein:

While some initial reports suggested that the owners of the Sprint iPhone 4S might be able to pop a local GSM microSIM into their phones while abroad and avoid Sprint’s roaming charges, Sprint denies that that is the case.

Ars asked Michelle Mermelstein, a Sprint wireless device public relations representative, to confirm that the Sprint iPhone 4S would not work with international microSIMs. “That is correct,” Mermelstein said. “I believe Verizon’s device works the same way.”

To remove any doubts that Sprint won't be letting customers with unlocked SIM cards bypass its international roaming charges, here is the full statement given by Sprint on the matter:

Sprint’s policy is to have the iPhone 4S SIM locked to our network domestically and internationally. At launch, the International SIM will be unlocked. We do expect a SIM lock to be pushed to the devices shortly after launch. We will then allow existing customers in good standing to unlock the SIM for international use if needed in the future.

Customers can sign up for one of our international rate plans and use this phone all over the world. When traveling internationally, there is a setting that must be turned on within the device to connect to GSM. The phone will work with a SIM that is provided within the device out of the box. International voice and data charges are on a pay-as-you-go basis and vary based on the country where the customer is using their phone; a list of rates is available at www.sprint.com/international.

Sprint offers two international voice plans that customers can subscribe to for discounted voice rates:

• The Canada Roaming add-on is $2.99 per month and all calls placed from Canada are only 20 cents per minute. Without this add-on, calls from Canada are 59 cents per minute.

• The Sprint Worldwide Voice add-on is $4.99 per month and offers discounted rates in countries around the world. For example, calls from Italy are $1.69 per minute with this add-on or $1.99 per minute without the add-on; calls from Peru are $2.29 per minute with the add-on or $2.49 per minute without it.

Sprint does supply notifications of data roaming charges to protect customers from high costs. Notifications are sent to the customer’s preferred method, either text or email, and are sent once the device exceeds approximately $50, $250, $500 and $1,000. To protect the customer from additional charges, the device’s international data roaming capability will be suspended after the customer exceeds approximately $1,000 of international data charges in a billing cycle.

Still confused? Feel free to send in your questions below.

Related:

Topics: Mobility, Hardware, iPhone, Smartphones, Telcos

About

Gloria Sin is a New York-based freelance journalist who writes about the tech toys that you can't live without for ZDNet. She has little patience for poorly designed user experiences, and is not afraid of opening the guts of her own machines for repair or hacking her gadgets for new uses.She has written for FastCompany.com, Popular Scienc... Full Bio

zdnet_core.socialButton.googleLabel Contact Disclosure

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.

Related Stories

The best of ZDNet, delivered

You have been successfully signed up. To sign up for more newsletters or to manage your account, visit the Newsletter Subscription Center.
Subscription failed.