Sprint unlocks iPhone 4S SIM card confusion

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.

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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.

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Topics: Mobility, Hardware, iPhone, Smartphones, Telcos

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36 comments
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  • RE: Sprint unlocks iPhone 4S SIM card confusion

    Well there is one thing that has not been mentioned about the world phone capabilities. What if// you go to Africa or middle east or Europe and you buy a prepaid sim with minutes to work on the local network. Will you be able to make phone calls on that chip on that network in the new iPhone 4s?
    2UpDuc
    • RE: Sprint unlocks iPhone 4S SIM card confusion

      @2UpDuc Judging by Sprint's statement on the matter (see updated story), what you described won't be possible. Assuming you got your iPhone 4S from Sprint and could get the carrier to unlock your SIM, you'd still have to pay Sprint and its GSM partner for whatever you use. Previously, you wouldn't even have the option of using your last-gen iPhone anywhere but the U.S. so the iPhone 4S' world phone capability and dual radio just means you can now use the device abroad -- just that it will cost you a pretty penny.
      Gloria Sin
      • RE: Sprint unlocks iPhone 4S SIM card confusion

        @Gloria Sin. Please understand Sprint CDMA-only phones can also be used internationally with roaming charge PREVIOUSLY. American people like you had been fooled by evil operators like ATT, SPRINT and VZW for a long time and don't understand what a global phone really means
        soccerli@...
    • RE: Sprint unlocks iPhone 4S SIM card confusion

      Glad to update that you could now unlock your iPhone 4S from iOS 5.0 to iOS 5.0.1 and works for all the network worldwide bases on the R-SIM Rgknse unlock sim card, more details here:
      http://www.dealmelody.com/rsim-rgknse-unlock-sim-card-for-iphone-4s-ios-50-501-version_p6332.html

      How to unlock iPhone 4S iOS 5.0.1 here:
      http://www.dealsteady.com/blog/?p=245
      yamatchy001
  • RE: Sprint unlocks iPhone 4S SIM card confusion

    Gloria Sin is (DUMB) and does not know what she is talking about.
    Verizon would have the same policy as Sprint- Unlock for customers in good standing

    An unlock phone can use any Sim card. Hence, once Sprint unlocks the SIM for customers in good standing, any SIM from any Carrier will work in it, just like the Blackberry touch from Verizon, dotted with a Sim slot, works on T-Mobile and other GSM carriers.

    What is your agenda miss Sin?
    amertumes
    • RE: Sprint unlocks iPhone 4S SIM card confusion

      @amertumes I don't have an agenda. I'm just trying to report on what I read/discovered. I've updated my story to include additional confirmation Ars Technica obtained from Sprint that the carrier is willing to unlock the micro-SIM for customers in good standing like Verizon BUT 1) the so-called unlocked phones WON'T be able to use in a local SIM card, and 2) Sprint customers will have to pay Sprint and its GSM partner for roaming charges incurred while abroad. There is no way around it unless you have an unsubsidized unlocked phone from Apple or your jailbreak your iPhone 4S. I hope this helps.
      Gloria Sin
      • RE: Sprint unlocks iPhone 4S SIM card confusion

        @Gloria Sin the BUT part by you makes no sense. If the so-called unlocked phones WON't be able to use a local SIM card, then what's the difference between a so-called unlocked phone and a locked phone? Can you explain?
        soccerli@...
      • RE: Sprint unlocks iPhone 4S SIM card confusion

        @Gloria Sin the BUT part by you makes no sense. If the so-called unlocked phones WON't be able to use a local SIM card, then what's the difference between a so-called unlocked phone and a locked phone? Can you explain?
        soccerli@...
      • RE: Sprint unlocks iPhone 4S SIM card confusion

        @Gloria Sin

        Thats the whole point here. Your article was supposed to clear up this confusion. People are MISUSING the term "unlocked". There is International Roaming unlocked with GSM partners, and then there is SIM UNLOCKED allowing use of micro sims in other countries. At no point has Verizon stated they will allow an UNLOCKED SIM that allows swapping in local SIM cards in other countries. Everyone, including yourself, is keeping the confusion alive by saying the "60 wait" thing relates to an unlocked sim for sim swapping. It doesn't. It only relates to allowing people the honor of running up $1,000 intenrational roaming bills, because they know you pay on time and are in good standing.
        ZDBurger
  • What happens to *YOUR* phone after your 2-year commitment has long ended?

    But what happens *AFTER* your 2-year contract ends?
    Then can you switch from Verizon to Sprint to AT&T any time you want?

    The phone is now "yours".
    The phone contains all 3 carrier chips.
    CathyCC
    • RE: Sprint unlocks iPhone 4S SIM card confusion

      @CathyCC Unfortunately, no. You won't be able to do that. Even if you have Apple's unsubsidized, unlocked version you won't be able to move from GSM (AT&T) to CDMA (Sprint) in America -- and that's without a contract.
      Gloria Sin
  • same ol same ol...

    Why is there any question here? You buy the phone (in the US), you buy the robbery. When fleets of lawyers are at work figuring out how to plug every leak, the customer has no chance of even the smallest benefit. There is no effective competition until it is the only possible way to wring another penny out of the deal.

    Personally, I'm sticking with my original Razr, where I can buy and use whatever SIM suits my needs in whatever country I might find myself. And carrying my MagicJack and a tiny old standard handset for insurance. It may be dumb but it works very well.
    semi-adult
    • RE: Sprint unlocks iPhone 4S SIM card confusion

      @semi-adult

      Thanks so much for your intelligent evaluation....I agree fully
      bfriskey
  • So, I should choose Verizon??

    Right now, it sounds a plan for me to choose Verizon instead of Sprint. Since I will travel around to other countries, I don't want to use the stupid roaming service. Based on this article, Sprint won't unlock the GSM SIM card. But, Verizon does it. "You can unlock your Verizon's 4s after 60 days if you are in a good standing".
    mmhuang
  • RE: Sprint unlocks iPhone 4S SIM card confusion

    Right now, it sounds a plan for me to choose Verizon instead of Sprint. Since I will travel around to other countries, I don't want to use the stupid roaming service. Based on this article, Sprint won't unlock the GSM SIM card. But, Verizon does it. "You can unlock your Verizon's 4s after 60 days if you are in a good standing".
    mmhuang
  • iphone 5 test

    I just found a test site, were you can test the iPhone 5: http://site-review.info
    iulikasomili
  • RE: Sprint unlocks iPhone 4S SIM card confusion

    You people just don't get it...the more you buy THE LESS YOU GET ,,THERE IS NO FREEDOM WITH ANY CARRIER ,.YOU HAVE TOLERATED FAR TOO LONG AND THEY WILL DO , with YOUR phone, as THEY see fit..Get over it..You lost that battle so move onto giving away your Freedom of speech ..You've done so well with cellular I can't wait to see what else the American consumer will do to themselves ?!?! Go teem, yea teem.. we've done so well.let's go buy more useless ad loaded crapware
    bfriskey
  • RE: Sprint unlocks iPhone 4S SIM card confusion

    If I buy the 4S now, it has an unlocked sim in it, right? What if I fedex it to a friend in other country, will he be able to put his local GSM sim in it and use it like an unlocked phone?
    iRaviATeja
  • RE: Sprint unlocks iPhone 4S SIM card confusion

    it seems very simple to me. How is this complicated? Each carrier does not want you to be able to use their local competitor. You can unlock it's use with foreign carriers, but local carriers are not unlocked.

    Maybe your problem is with what you want this to be vs. what it actually is. Sure, everyone calls it "unlocked" when you can use it on any carrier (GSM at least). So these carriers want to re-use that word and confuse simple minded consumers into thinking their phone is "unlocked."

    Not that complicated. Carriers are greedy and obfuscate their services.
    awkward hug
    • RE: Sprint unlocks iPhone 4S SIM card confusion

      @awkward hug

      Here is my situation and maybe you can help. I have a verizon iphone 4s. I called customer support last night and asked to "unlock" my phone. They said they just clicked on a button and that was it to unlock my phone. There was no accessing a secret hidden menu within my iphone and entering a code. Everything was done on their end. But I never got a response saying that my phone was unlocked. This morning, I tried to put in my friend's ATT sim in my phone and it did not work (gave me an error message stating that this sim does not work with my phone). I am planning to go to Canada soon so when I go to canada and put in a Roger's sim card, will it work?
      paulwpark