iPhone: No longer exclusive, still locked

Verizon iPhone

With the expected announcement and launch on Verizon this month, AT&T exclusivity will be over and the iPhone will finally be available on another US carrier -- but it will still be locked.

Unlike most other countries where iPhone is available on multiple carriers, you won't be able to go to an Apple store and pay full price for an unlocked iPhone you can use on any network -- or any carrier around the world with a simple SIM swap. Verizon, being a CDMA rather than GSM carrier doesn't use SIMs.

Instead US customers will have the choice between two locked iPhones -- locked to AT&T or locked to Verizon, unable to move between the two, and not even able to officially move to the other GSM and CDMA carriers in the US, T-Mobile and Sprint. While we don't know for certain, in all likelihood you won't be able to call your carrier and get your iPhone unlocked, you won't even be able to pay them to unlock it.

That means if you're currently an AT&T iPhone user and you want to move to Verizon you have to buy a new Verizon iPhone. You can't take it with you. And if you get a Verizon iPhone and decide life on AT&T really was better, there's no bringing your new phone back.

Will the ever be a time when an American can walk into an Apple Store and buy an unlocked iPhone, capable of working on any carrier in the US, just like in most of the rest of the world? Because come this time next month the iPhone in the US -- land of the free -- will still be locked. It'll just be locked to two carriers instead of one.

Have something to say about this story? Share your comments below! Need help with something else? Submit your question!

Rene Ritchie

Editor-in-Chief of iMore, co-host of Iterate, Debug, Review, Vector, and MacBreak Weekly podcasts. Cook, grappler, photon wrangler. Follow him on Twitter and Google+.

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Reader comments

iPhone: No longer exclusive, still locked

72 Comments

No wonder the US is so far behind the rest of the world in cellular technology and network capabilities. This "MINE....MINE....MINE" attitude of American companies but a severe and keen interest of NOT making the same pledge of actually USING Americans to build the "MINE... MINE... MINE" technology is truly baffling.
AND, American consumers aren't helping... they'll buy anything that they perceive will get them 36 nanoseconds ahead of their neighbors... what amazing short-term ego-centric quacks...

"short-term ego-centric quacks"? You mad?
I'm planning on getting the VZW iPhone because 1) my BlackBerry is crap, 2) I want syncing to my computer to be simple (and I use a Mac) and 3) I still want a phone that fits in my pocket, and the Androids are enormous. Plus, I've invested a lot of $ into my 1st gen iPod Touch which just died, and I want one device for everything.
The new VZW plans lock you in for 20 mo., so I fail to see the "short term" bit. I can't figure out where you're getting "ego-centric" either...Most people I know don't even own a smartphone. Even then, how does desiring a phone that's top of the market make someone egotistical?
Someone needs a chill pill.

With your brilliant understanding of the US cell phone market feel free to come to our shores and open up shop and put the likes of AT&T and Verizon out of business. Clearly, it should be easy like it is in other countries where you put up a few towers in 2-3 cities and along side of a few hundred miles of highway and call it a network.
This market is so easy for foreigners to conquer that T-Mobile is dead last among the big 4 in subscribers and technology no that they are now trying to redefine what 4G is to win subscribers.
And Vodaphone is too afraid of dissolving their partnership with Verizon because of the challenge of going it alone in a market where many states are larger than networks they have in many countries.
Face facts, you have little understanding of this country and the market and find it easier to criticize and cast stones than understand.

I'm of the opinion that "a few towers in 2-3 cities and along side of a few hundred miles of highway and call it a network" is all it should take. You American's are far too concerned with cost cutting and restrictive measures. Do the job properly the first time round and PLAN (is that even a word in America any more?) for the future.

I have to ask, Are customers of the iPhone really bothered by this? And if the answer is yes, why would they bother buying it. If you want an unlocked phone, buy an Android phone. I live in Canada and have an iPhone. I figure I'm a regular customer that given the option (on Rogers) I'm still ok having a locked phone. I like my iPhone and I'm sure for the millions of others people that like this phone, being "Locked In" isn't a big enough deal.

We will be able to buy unlocked phones only when Congress passes a law, which won't happen, because they are in the back pockets of the various communications companies.
This is probably not, or at least probably less, the case in Europe.

I'd like to see some credible source behind this. Verizon hasn't even announced the iPhone on their network yet (though it's almost certain that they will). How would you possibly know that it will still be locked?

Well its not LOCKED...but because Verizon won't activate a Sprint phone and Sprint won't activate a Verizon phone for our purposes lets say it is.. There are tricks to getting them to activate a different carriers phone but for 99.9% of the population this is not an option. If its CDMA, its generally stuck to the carrier whose brand is stamped on it.

Finally the Verizon iPhone rumors can finlly go to rest...Cue " the inevitable Sprint iPhone" rumors 1 hour after they unveil on Tuesday. :(

Not sure why this is being presented as iPhone-specific. All devices purchased from a carrier in the states are locked to that carrier. It's nothing new. Hard up for page views?
Perhaps not ideal, but, one silver lining to this cloud is that the more carriers that have it, the more likely we are to see competitive pricing promotions, deals on contract requirements, etc...

this is simply false. every phone I have ever owned, other than the iPhone, required only a call to customer service for a pin to unlock it

No. It's simply true. Although you have the ability to call to unlock a device, not one is available from a carrier is unlocked out of the box.

"Not sure why this is being presented as iPhone-specific."
because with all other phones, you can call and have them unlocked, which
you can't do with the iPhone at present

Dont care. Apple is a giant and if each carrier will pay their own premium for a piece of the iPhone then so be it. Why turn down money. I'm fine with locked in carriers. It's crowd control. I don't want to see any little rinky dink up and coming carrier offering the greatest phone with no network to run it on. At&t is strong and stable.

How is this any differant that it is now. If you get any phone from AT&T you can't take it to VZW. The same if you get a VZW phone it can't be used on AT&T. The only fixes are dual chip iPhone or VZW giving up on it's outdated technology.

It's apples to oranges. We have national carriers here. Over in Europe, if you run too fast, you've crossed into another country. They need more "freedom"

I ask once again, is there a small tiny chance that there is already a CDMA chip in the iPhone 4? I know what you're thinking, wouldn't someone have figured that out by now? But no one knew the iPod Touch 2nd gen had Bluetooth until Apple told us it did.
I know, the chances are slim, but you just never know.
On that note, I still doubt AT&T would unlock our iPhones.

Well it depends of how you look at it. iPhone are UMTS(=WCDMA) and GSM capable so they are CDMA capable. But Verizon is not running UMTS but another kind of CDMA service.

I'm honestly tired of hearing all of the blogs say that this is a done deal. Nothing has been confirmed so why must everyone say "Oh this is totally happening.." It's been the same old story for what.. Five years? Don't get me wrong, I'm on the edge of my seat as well but until Tuesday, again, nothing has been confirmed.

That's my point. They never confirmed it. If they have then please direct me to the article because I'd really like to see it!

The whole thing of carrier subsidized phones is the underlying issue - imagine your cable company giving you a TV that retails for $800 for $200 - $300 to sign on for a two year hitch?
Phones should be retail price - and you take it to the carrier of your choice... and buy a plan that meets your needs - month to month, or a contract.

you'v answered your own question "hey, buy a 50 inch 3d 240hz all singing dancing tv for $100 for with a this level of service from this particular cable/satellite operator for 2 years" customer gets a fancy tv for walking around money, tv operators get guaranteed viewers and the TV makers move more of a premium product. I give you the google one phone (or whatever it was called.

The leaked band had breaks in the steel that suggested and additional antenna was added. It also had a sim slot. To me, at suggests that it's gonna be a single model with both GSM and CDMA.

In the iPhone 4, the break in the antenna on the lower right hand side is for cosmetic purposes only.
Apple hates asymmetry in their devices. One or two of the breaks are likely cosmetic in this supposed new steel frame floating around.

...yet, here I am loving how nice some Apple products are but consistently buying from HTC and HP. I can't bring myself to buy from them until I have more freedom worth the devices I might choose to pay for.

People who have crappy gsm service would go to CDMA. I have spotty edge where I work/live, but survive because I want to keep my iphone. When I can guarantee I will actually have service all the time and still have my iPhone, I will do whatever is necessary, including switching to Verizon, which is a company I detest.

So you think CDMA is better than GSM only cause Verizin may have a better network in your area ?!
GSM is the most reliable and most popular network in the world ! If you can't see that then you and Steve Wonder shop at the same SunGlassHut :lol:

Doesn't matter how good it is worldwide when you can't make a phone call in your own home. For some people who travel just having a spare unlocked GSM phone is enough anyway.

I think the FCC and/or the FTC needs to step in and make AT&T/Apple unlock the iPhone once and for all.
We have four generations of iPhone that need to be jailbroken in order for it to be used on different carriers. Unless Apple is going to approve of jailbreaking, they better do something to stop this stranglehold.

Not a big deal to me for the AT&T iPhone to be locked since even if it was unlocked, it would run on T-Mobile's EDGE network. As for CDMA, not interested.

Isn't there speculation about the vzw iphone being a world phone as well as LTE? if it isnt either of those, its a huge deal breaker

Umm thanks for the "insight," Rene. But if you want to make a valid point, you should stop comparing devices that will [supposedly] have two entirely different chipsets inside. You make it sound like those greedy bastards at Verizon and AT&T themselves have made it such that one cannot make each carrier's phones work on the other. THEY ARE BUILT WITH TWO COMPLETELY DIFFERENT CELLULAR TECHNOLOGIES. Furthermore, if you haven't figured it out yet, Apple is mostly to blame for their phones' inability to be unlocked. AT&T gladly unlocks just about any other phone after you've been under contract for a few months (I've had them unlock countless smartphones for me over the phone in minutes) but Apple has prohibited AT&T from doing anything "normally," including unlocking phones. Yes, you got it--that was Apple's decision. So let's just admit what this really is: a decision by Steve Jobs and company to forever lock the iPhone to the carriers for which they were intended, except in countries whose laws prohibit such. And why would they do this? Oh, right: because AT&T and Verizon fork over to Apple a chunk of the iPhone-related data fees (notice I used the word "fork" properly?). If anything, Americans should consider themselves lucky that Apple went out of their way to even accommodate the requirements of CDMA networks, because now Americans have the choice between arguably the best GSM carrier and best CDMA carrier.

Actually, if Apple is maintaining the lock on AT&T iPhones past the contract period, I'd propose it is because of out-of-the-country grey market sales. I don't think they get any part of the data fees. If they did, it was over by the time the iPhone 3G came in when Apple went all in with the subsidizing model.
But anyways, if the USA wants to have a cellular market based on contract free phones with carriers only selling service, thinking that it'll make things cheaper, it will take legislation. Collusion is a natural artifact of business when the infrastructure costs are so high. A commodity business it is not. Maybe in another 4 years when all the additional bandwidth won't make a lick of difference to the experience.

Well duh.
In the US there's only one major carrier with whom a UMTS 3G iPhone is compatible - AT&T. So it doesn't matter that it's locked unless you want to take it out of the country.
A Verizon iPhone would obviously be CDMA, which you could only take to Sprint. And Sprint, last I knew, wouldn't activate phones you didn't buy from them. So big whoop.
This whole business of carrier-locking iPhones, as you can see, is stupid. But it's perfectly in character for Apple, AT&T, and Verizon.

I believe Apple would love to sell unlocked iPhones (as they do in Europe). It is entirely AT&T's fault, they want to prevent you from switching to T-Mobile or any international carriers (so they can cash in on high roaming charges). "Land of the free"? Hah. The US phone market is probably the most consumer unfriendly in the world, requiring you to buy a new phone whenever you wish to switch carrier.
In Europe you generally have two options: Either buy a cheap locked phone (subsidised by the carrier, with a contract period), or a more expensive unlocked phone.
In addition, there are two incompatible phone systems in the US, creating additional problems. A good explanation can be found here: http://gizmodo.com/5637136/giz-explains-gsm-vs-cdma

the freakin phone hasn't even been announced yet, & now you guys are talkin "possible" business? Really. that's disappointing. Just wait till the iPhone is released on Verizon A.K.A. Confirmed! I will be laughing back at this post if Verizon doesn't even mention iPhone on Tuesday.

It is sad if Verizon bought exclusivity to with-hold the iPhone from landing at T-Mobile and Sprint, especially T-Mobile, since they carry it on all their networks overseas (Netherlands, UK, Germany, etc.) and it is a GSM/UTMS/HSPA network just like AT&T...

Honestly I think it's dumb dumb dumb..... Because I understand that yes AT&T lost the exclusive contract wit apple, but it was fun making fun of the verizon consumers that had no iPhone :( now we can't :(, any one think android or blackberrry will surpass the iPhone, in the near future?

I'll be excited once the iPhone 4G comes out in June. Now that AT&T calls HSPA+ "4G" as well, it can be called a 4G iPhone, and then maybe an LTE iPhone in June of 2012.
Exciting times are ahead. ;)

And yet you STILL IGNORE THE SECOND BIGGEST IPHONE MARKET IN THE WORLD-- Japan, where IT IS STILL LOCKED. all these digs on the US and not a single one because "they don't speak a language we like"

Rene sit back in your minuscule country with fewer people than the city of Tokyo and preach. It's easy when your country is an economic midget like Canada

I love how you FLAUNT the fact that tokyo, a CITY, has more people than a COUNTRY!!!! Really??? PLease, I PITY those that have to live in such close quarters they can barely move around without bumping shoulders and elbows and heads XD Have you SEEN tokyo? Who in there right mind would find THAT place desirable? Im sorry. I'll stick with my big house, big car, and wide roads, with freedom to MOVE around and stare out my bedroom window without having to worry about staring into my neighbors livingroom!

Wrong.
They might ANNOUNCE it on that date but I hardly doubt it that they'd RELEASE it on the same day it's announced.
Expect a late February release.

on one hand, I'm hoping vzw DOES release the iPhone so Renee can finally shut up about it, but on the other hand, I'd love to laugh my ass off when verizon announces something totally off base

thx for the information.
In germany it's similar: iPhone's from vodafone and tmobile are locked to tmobile and eplus and o2 sells unlocked from factory devices.
The difference is, that there are two providers with the unlocked iphone and apple sells the unlocked iphone in a Apple Store.
Greetings from a german blogger :)

No SIM in Verizon CDMA phone? That is strange to me. In Asian countries, Indonesia, for example. The CDMA carriers do use SIMs that connect to CDMA networks, and GSM carriers use SIMs too for their networks. Of course, one cannot put a CDMA SIM in a GSM phone and expect it to work, but my point is, Verizon should be using cards in their phones, so users can swap the card out for other CDMA networks while traveling, just as GSM users could do. Maybe there is actually a CDMA SIM in their iPhone for Verizon, but simply not removeable?

Maybe Verizon will announce a new network that is GSM compatible, and the iPhone won't have to be CDMA. That's what happened in Canada with Bell & Telus - they were CDMA only, and changed to a new network, then announced the iPhone.

Hopefully once carriers move to LTE, you'll be able to purchase unlocked phones to use on any carrier's network since they'll all be using the same technology. Until then, you don't gain much from an unlocked phone in the US.
If you unlock an AT&T or T-Mobile phone, you can use it on the other's network, but not 3G. Only unlocking a Verizon or Sprint phone will allow you to use that phone without losing any features (I believe).

Even if they would let you unlock your phones, it would not matter:
- The GSM iPhone sold by at&t works with tmobile, but since at&t and tmobile use different frequency bands, you end up with EDGE and not UMTS/HSPA
- The GSM iPhone sold by at&t CANNOT work on Verizon or Sprint, and the upcoming Verizon iPhone cannot work on at&t and tmobile, different technology. The same goes for every single phone sold in the US, not just the iPhone
- The upcoming iPhone sold by Verizon would work just fine with Sprint, but transferring CDMA phones from one CDMA carrier to the other is not as easy as it seems, it's not like all you have to do is to swap a SIM card! You would need Sprint to be able to provision the phone, assign a new MIN, update the phone PRL (preferred roaming list), etc... Not an easy task!

Wait, you can't use an AT&T GSM phone on a CDMA Verizon phone, despite them being almost two entirely different technologies, Rene?!?
CAPTAIN OBVIOUS TO THE RESCUE.

so if i waited till the white iPhone, can i get it unlocked to T-mobile? not even by anyone else besides the carriers?

Can we say LTE?? As soon as Att finally gets involved there will be a much more open functionality to phones between carriers but as everyone knows att wont start that until late 2011