Only the GSM iPhone 4S Can Be Unlocked

By , Oct 7, 2011

Following the news earlier that the iPhone 4S won’t be available as an unlocked device until November, it’s also worth noting that only customers on GSM carriers will be able to unlock the 4S.

Apple touted the iPhone 4S as a “world phone” capable of running on both GSM and CDMA networks, but as usual there seems to be more involved when it comes to the fine print. Unfortunately, an unlocked iPhone 4S will only work on GSM networks…

This means that AT&T customers will have the option of purchasing an unlocked iPhone 4S next month, but Verizon and Sprint customers will not be able to join in on the unlock party.

Apple’s pre-order form for the iPhone 4S gives the details on buying an unlocked device:

“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. To start using it, simply insert the micro-SIM card into the slot on your iPhone and turn it on by pressing and holding the On/Off button for a few seconds. Then follow the onscreen instructions to set up your iPhone.”

The tricky nature of the iPhone 4S makes it seem like customers can simply hop back and forth between a GSM carrier (like AT&T) and a CDMA carrier (like Sprint). When you buy your 4S on a certain carrier, you are effectively locking the phone’s baseband compatibility to that carrier’s standard.

AllThingsD points to Apple’s technical specifications for the iPhone that details using an unlocked 4S on different carriers internationally. Many customers choose an unlocked iPhone for the ability to swap out microSIMs on GSM networks around the world (GSM is a world standard, while CDMA is largely limited to the US).

“The iPhone model you purchase is subject to your wireless service provider’s policies, which may include restrictions on switching service providers and roaming, even after conclusion of any required minimum service contract,” Apple states.

The GSM iPhone 4S will run on T-Mobile in the US, but only on the carrier’s 2G network. T-Mobile’s 3G network uses a different band than AT&T.

The unlocked iPhone 4S starts at $649 US for the 16GB version. You can pre-order a carrier locked iPhone 4S for AT&T, Verizon and Sprint today.

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  • Dylan

    So if you get a CDMA iPhone it won’t be unlocked. What GSM carrier can you use on the CDMA version? AT&T only?

  • Kormirluk

    Pretty complicated?!?!

  • Tram

    So if the phone is on the Verizon network and we unlock the GSM portion. Does that mean we can use it on both networks? Please excuse me if this is a stupid question.

    • Tram

      Nevermind, I re-read the article and it states that if we unlock it it will not work on the CDMA network.

  • MALdito

    So much for it actually being a “world phone”. With every new article you guys put out it seems that the iPhone 4S is turning out to be less of a sweet phone then it’s made out to be…

    • Ken

      +1 we should start talk about iPhone 5 rumor.

    • Ethan

      True that! Damn those fine prints. So, iPhone 5 rumors lives on :’(

  • goofygreek

    So the iphone 4s is a world phone thats limited to USA when it comes to using it on a cdma network. That makes sense. NOT. Well, its not unexpected. The cdma carriers do have to have another chance at screwing you over.

    • Bill

      Why doesn’t it make sense? You will not find a CDMA network anywhere outside of the US. As long as you can unlock (jb or legit) the GSM radio then you’ll be fine.

      • Mannedmodule

        Sorry, Bill, get your facts straight. Visafone network in Nigeria is based on CDMA, AND uses SIM cards too! See? There is a world outside the US afterall! In fact there are several CDMA carriers worldwide, and many of them support unlocked SIM-based handsets! So why not iPhone?

  • tim

    what about buying from Canada? I did not see any such messages in the apple Canada website!!

  • 2035 A.D

    CDMA doesn’t exist in Australia anymore.
    I mean, who would wanna get their phone activated on a network without a sim? They already come unlocked in Australia on the GSM network :D

  • north

    You need to add that if you live in the US you won’t see one till November..

    Here in Canada ours come unlocked. and that’s the only way to pre order through apple. No carrier to pick.

    Glad I got up early to pre order now seeing the news that International orders are delayed delivery now.

    I’ll sell you my unlocked next Friday for a reasonable mark-up if you want

  • Austin

    I thought there was only 1 version of the iPhone 4S, you know, cause they made it into a “world phone”?

  • Jacksparrow

    If you are in the US. Try looking up mvno and you will find plenty carriers that are not AT&T.

  • Jailbreak

    why can’t they make it work on cdma to why

  • jcheong

    ok seriously, US is not the only country using CDMA… Japan Korea Macau and a large portion in China use CDMA. However, they use a sim card CDMA, you all think that just because US CDMA phones don’t have a sim card it means the rest of the world don’t zzzz. Nevertheless, I’m sure the jailbreakers will figure a way to unlock the CDMA portion part of the unlocked GSM phones.

    • Mannedmodule

      Unlocking the CDMA part of the unlocked GSM … there should be a huge market for this in the 3rd ( ie real) world! Keep me posted. Indeed it will be so successful that Apple will jailbreak the iPhone too in release 5 to get a slice of the booty…(lol!)

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  • http://profile.yahoo.com/VUOCTLG4QQFHB7NZBBFFI6MVK4 Mehdi

    how to know carrier of iphone is gsm or cdma ?