In the first three years of the iPhone’s existence, the handset was crippled by limited availability. The only carrier in the US that offered the smartphone was AT&T. And in other countries, the device’s exclusivity was just as bad.

This year, however, Apple has been making some major strides. With the iPhone 4S, three out of the four major US carriers will have access to the device. But what does the new handset mean for T-Mobile customers and other unlockers?

Unlocking, for those who aren’t familiar, is the process of removing carrier restrictions on a phone to enable it to work with another operator. In the past, iPhones weren’t sold unlocked, so you had to go through a procedure to make it so.

Recently, though, Apple has been selling its smartphone completely unlocked. It’s a bit more pricey than purchasing one with a carrier subsidy, but users can easily switch the phone from AT&T, to another GSM carrier like T-Mobile.

It seems like the trend will continue, as MacTrast points to a description of the unlocked iPhone on Apple’s website:

“The unlocked iPhone includes all of the features of iPhone but without a contract commitment. You can activate and use it on the supported GSM wireless network of your choice, such as AT&T in the United States. The unlocked iPhone 4 or iPhone 4S will not work with CDMA-based carriers such as Verizon Wireless or Sprint.

If you don’t want a multiyear service contract or if you prefer to use a local carrier when traveling abroad, the unlocked iPhone is the best choice. It arrives without a micro-SIM card, so you’ll need an active micro-SIM card from any supported GSM carrier worldwide.”

It’s odd that Apple mentions that the unlocked iPhone 4S won’t work on CDMA networks, since the phone contains both CDMA and GSM support. It’ll be interesting to see if the jailbreak community can do something about that.

It sounds like T-Mobile users are in the clear, especially since the carrier supplies the required micro-SIM cards. Chances are that the new device will still be limited to 2G browsing, as it’s still not officially supported by Apple.

There doesn’t seem to be any pricing for the unlocked 4S on Apple’s website yet, but it should be available in the next few weeks. Plan on it mirroring its predecessors, with the base model starting close to $650.

Do you plan on buying an unlocked iPhone 4S?

  • 2035 A.D

    I’ll stick with my iPhone 4 until the contract ends late next year. By then the iPhone 5 will arrive and I’ll be upgrading. At Australia, all mobiles come unlocked with a contract, so we don’t have to worry about network locks. Not everything is better in America 😀

    • DebTym

      agree. need an unlocked one. don’t make our lives problematic

  • MALdito

    Its about time someone says something about unlocking! Its still expensive as hell though. Thanks Cody!

  • 2035 A.D

    Should of deleted the 1st comment – I forgot that America was a continent xD

    • Cameron Carlyon

      But also a country! And in the UK you have unlocked phones as well! “Not everythings better in the US” +1!

      • AMERICA is NOT a country!!!!! YOU call the US “America”, but “America” is a continent… self centered yankis….. what a pity.

    • hinako442003

      North America is a continent, South America is a continent, the Americas are two continents. But America is indeed the US of A.

      • You are incorrect. America is indeed a continent, weather it be North or South. We are THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, but not America alone. 🙂 HTH

  • Greg

    Very strange that it won’t work on CDMA carriers. Kind of a deterrent, since it doesn’t offer true “freedom” of carrier choice.

  • I’ll buy an unlocked iPhone 4S in the USA to save money — in Italy the 16 GB model is 650 €! Buying an unlocked iPhone 4S in the US would cost me less than 500€. Anyway it’s coming earlier in the US and my father will be there before it comes in Italy, so I’ll make a great deal and get it even before than Italians

  • kokhean

    The iPhones sold in Singapore are always unlocked (because there is some some law about consumer rights) and it even comes with official tethering. I love it.

  • DebTym

    and i really hate hacktivating my iphone 4. it loses its facetime and push notification

  • So does that mean I could buy a phone from USA and send it abroad to family and it will work…I’m so excited (“,)

  • Chris

    Its si stupid to buy a “cheaper” iPhone with a 2 year contract. I’m from Belgium/Europe and its illegal here. So you have to pay you’re phone and to take a carrier.

    I use Mobile Vikings. It costs me 15€ a month (about 20$) including free Internet (based on a fair use policy of 2GB) and calls for either 30 USD Cents a minute or less ten a cent by VoIP when I’m on 3G or WIFI.

    I studied architecture in Germany where you can either buy it with a contract or completely unlocked. And believe me with those contract fees over 2 years (minimum 50€ a month or 70$) you’ll pay you’re phone more then once!! The carriers aren’t stupid giving you the phone without taking the costs back in any way.

    I mean you can get an iPhone 4S with T-Mobile for 1 stupid Euro with the most expensive plan. But you’ll pay 100$ a month over 2 years!! 2400 bugs my dear friends… Excluding extra costs like international calls or roaming. (OK European countries are small Dso you’ll be abroad kind of often)

    But in general paying 700$ for a phone and choosing the mobile carrier and plan you really need will stay less less cheaper.

    My mind…

    • Agreed!

    • SRUm1sh

      What does it have to do with you studying architecture?? lol

  • Scaredy Shroom

    Don’t the android phones come unlocked?

    • Chris

      Could be… The lock is just a decision of the carrier. You could even get a contract phone unlocked if the carrier accepts it.

      In Belgium all phones have to be unlocked by law.

    • goofygreek

      No, but AT&T will unlock your andriod phone if its been out for more than 6-9 months i think. With andriod phones, its just a time limit thing, with the iphone, only apple can unlock it.

      • Chris

        Thats not true. Apple does it. But AT&T asks apple to put this lock.

        In Belgium like I said even if you buy it “cheaper” with a contract it has to be unlocked.

        In Germany where I studied before its locked by tmobile Germany and when you’re contract ends, you can unlock it by yourself by entering the IMEI on their website.
        And if you upgrade you’ll get a new locked one but you may still unlock you’re old.

  • Jay

    No! No! No!.. I’ve been using iPhone on TMobile since first 2G … I’m so sick of Edge slowness that I feel like I live in stone ages. That’s it for me and my eternal love with iPhone! I’m moving on…

  • It seems Apple needs to issue a company wide memo in regard to an unlocked iPhone 4S. Obviously, as MacTrast pointed out, there will be an unlocked iPhone 4s available for purchase. However, every Apple employee I’ve talked to denies the existence of an unlocked 4s, claiming there is no plan to release an unlocked 4s.

    BUT… I have a friend who works in the nearby Apple store, and he said, “We have a SKU for an unlocked phone, but I haven’t gotten any word on if it will be available on launch day.”

    So… who knows. I’m crossing my fingers that despite the disparity, when I login to the Apple Store tonight at midnight, there will be an unlocked 4s waiting for me to pre-order.

  • Matt

    Up until 2008, I has used a shitty phone with basically no internet. My mom had given me her old 3G as she got her 3GS. I fell in love with it, but eventually it was just so crippling slow, both internet and performance. I did buy a 4 but couldn’t get it unlocked for about 7 months (finally got to use it in about Febuary).

    I love my iP4 but the EDGE is just so fucking slow, it is a nightmare to use it on the go. Thankfully, about 75% of my iPhone internet usage is spent when I have WiFi available.

    I honestly cannot see myself upgrading to 4S simply because of its lack of 3/4G speeds with T-Mobile. I have toyed with the idea of going Android for faster speeds, but I really do love my 4 and don’t want to part with something I love.

    To me, the specs of the 4S aren’t impress enough for me to buy a new phone. Please note that I’m not saying the 4S upgrades on specs are anything to laugh at, it’s just that the most important update to me is 3G/4G connectivity.

    I’ll just wait for the 5 to come out and even if it doesn’t have better internet for T-Mobile, I may get it.

    • Badlands

      Wait. I’m in the same boat with AT&T. Are we Sure it doesn’t work with Tmobile’s 3G? It is a world phone. That would be shit v

  • Up until 2008, I has used a shitty phone with basically no internet. My mom had given me her old 3G as she got her 3GS. I fell in love with it, but eventually it was just so crippling slow, both internet and performance. I did buy a 4 but couldn’t get it unlocked for about 7 months (finally got to use it in about Febuary).

    I love my iP4 but the EDGE is just so fucking slow, it is a nightmare to use it on the go. Thankfully, about 75% of my iPhone internet usage is spent when I have WiFi available.

    I honestly cannot see myself upgrading to 4S simply because of its lack of 3/4G speeds with T-Mobile. I have toyed with the idea of going Android for faster speeds, but I really do love my 4 and don’t want to part with something I love.

    To me, the specs of the 4S aren’t impress enough for me to buy a new phone. Please note that I’m not saying the 4S upgrades on specs are anything to laugh at, it’s just that the most important update to me is 3G/4G connectivity.

    I’ll just wait for the 5 to come out and even if it doesn’t have better internet for T-Mobile, I may get it.

    • Shoehorn

      By then T-Mobile will be no more, as AT&T will have purchased them.

  • XepptizZ

    I do not get all the issues above, I have a factory unlocked iph 4 with my contract and plugged in a local sim in china and had 3g right away. Live in the Netherlands by the way.

    • Badlands

      It can have many different sim cards in the ip4 when it’s unlocked and use 3G on many of them. In USA we want to use Tmobile for our carrier. We technically can but it doesn’t support Tmibiles 3G carrier wave, only it’s Edge. Can we be really sure it won’t be able to use the 3G network until it’s out. The antenna is new. Isn’t their a slim chance? Especially because AT&T MIGHT (I pray not) gobble up Tmobile. It’s just makes sense to make that as a fail safe?

  • John Lee

    Ok. Somebody clear this up for me.

    According to my aunt,who uses AT&T, says that I have to pay $30 monthly when I buy a smartphone (iPhone 4s). True or not?

    And if that is true, if I were to buy an unlocked iPhone 4s right now, would I still have to pay the monthly fee?

  • theirish33

    yes that is very true.Even if you unlock your iPhone no matter what model you’d have to use a sim to pick a carrier.if you use an unlocked iPhone for at&t you have to pay $30 a month just for the internet(thats without mins {at least $60/month}and sms{$25/month}and that only 2 Gbs/month so say goodbye to streaming those videos ,playing those online games and video chatting your friend.Yea so at&t blows but they do have GSM instead of CDMA which doesn’t allow talk and surf.cant wait till iPhone has 4G signal that would make my pain go away.

  • koo

    i just got the iphone 4s from the usa, (i live in the uk) .. im confused because some people say that it needs to be unlocked whereas most say that even if it unlocks it won’t work in the uk! do you know anything ?

  • Its ridiculous you cant travel anywhere and switch from your own carrier to a local one without unlocking it. One of the reasons i unlock and jailbreak all my iphones. Last time i had a phone bill of 2600 euros while travelling in canada for biz. Glad i found a good site that always updates with the latest unlocking and jailbreaking solutions.. I wont spam the website (we all hate spam) i use to unlock my iphone 4 (and possibly iphone 4s soon), but instead i will put it as my website..