28 Comments

Summary:

The Verizon version of the iPhone 5 will come with all of its radios, save CDMA, unlocked. That means any Verizon iPhone user can insert any carrier’s SIM card and be on another network. That’s great news for network switchers and even better news for jetsetters.

iPhone Paris Eifel Tower
photo: Flickr / bredgur

It used to be the case that if you traveled extensively overseas, Verizon Wireless was the last carrier you wanted to sign a long-term contract with at home. Not only were its CDMA phones incompatible with the GSM networks used in most other countries, but also its lack of SIM cards meant you were stuck paying whatever ridiculous international roaming rates Verizon charged.

That all ends with the iPhone 5. The CDMA version of the device is not only the most internationally versatile of the different carrier variants, but it also has a SIM card slot, which Big Red is keeping unlocked, a Verizon spokesperson confirmed to the Washington Post. That means a Verizon iPhone 5 owner can go anywhere in the world, insert another carrier’s SIM card, and be up and running.

Of Apple’s three iPhone variants, the CDMA version is truly the global phone. Not only does it support Verizon, Sprint and Asian operators’ CDMA networks, but it contains the GSM and HSPA radios used by the majority of the world’s remaining carriers as well as long list of international LTE bands. But supporting a lot of bands means little if you can’t afford to use them. In most cases, international data roaming rates are so expensive, tapping into a foreign 4G LTE network or even a high-speed HSPA+ would be financial suicide.

But with an unlocked SIM slot, customers can always opt to pay local rates by buying a local SIM card. Typically carriers will manually unlock a device for you, but only after your contract expires or you’ve satisfied certain conditions of your service agreement. Verizon doesn’t seem to care whose network you connect to as long as you keep paying your monthly bill.

That unlock policy extends to other U.S. networks as well so technically you could insert an AT&T or T-Mobile nano-SIM into a Verizon iPhone and access their networks (presumably you could do the same with a Sprint LTE SIM, but you wouldn’t get access to its voice or 3G networks). That means if you broke your contract with Verizon you could immediately activate it on a competing network.

Keep in mind though that if you switched carriers, you wouldn’t have access to all networks. AT&T’s LTE network runs on a different 4G band, which requires a different iPhone 5 variant. T-Mobile won’t have LTE until next year, and even then its networks are designed to work with the AT&T version. Starting this year, though, all versions of the iPhone 5 will run over T-Mobile’s newly reconfigured 42 Mbps HSPA+ network.

Image courtesy of Flickr User bredgur

  1. Whilst I understand that having an unlocked SIM card slot is something new for the iPhone it certainly is not true to call out the current iPhone as a truly capable globetrotting phone. It is widely reported that thus latest iPhone is anything but. It misses many parts of Europe in its LTE coverage and frankly having to swap a SIM card or have as many variants of a phone purely because of the lack of pentaband coverage is a poor result in what is meant to be the beat iPhone yet (an overused and easy to attain title – just add one feature over the previous version!).

    Also for this subject you should have also included the new maps feature, which is a complete mess that users are very angry about and I am sure Apple would prefer not to have to be fixing.

    As a reporter in this sector I am sure you are aware of both of these issues and fund it strange you did not include them for the full disclosure benefit of your readers.

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    1. AS147, I invite you to read all of our other Apple iPhone 5 coverage. We wrote about all the topics you’ve mentioned plus many more. http://gigaom.com/tech/topic/iphone-5/

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  2. Michael Martin, PMP Monday, September 24, 2012

    Just don’t globe-trot using its maps

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  3. a globetrotters’ best friend?? Good luck trying to find a pre-paid nano-sim, I hope anyone listening to your advice is handy with a pair of scissors and sanding paper

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    1. Hi Romford, carriers are starting to get Nano-SIMs. T-Mobiles arrive in October. There wasn’t any point in having them until the iPhone 5 hit the market.

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  4. Given that LTE is a new technology/radio that is being rolled out in the US, and Europe and is still very much in its infancy do you see it as fair to claim that a phone that can still cover the globe using either CDMA or GSM 3G technology is NOT a globetrotting phone. I certainly think it is, a year ago you would not have been able to get a fully unlocked phone on Verizon that could be used on ANY carrier using GSM and that includes both US GSM and Global GSM carriers.

    In say 5 years when the world has grown up and LTE is fully deployed on a more grand scale and we start to see radios with multiple frequencies for LTE as we do today with GSM radios then yes it will again become a fully globetrotting phone.

    But as I noted LTE is just starting in Europe, its not even started in China which is the largest wireless market in the world. So lets not get too worked up about having your LTE and eat it too globally. HSDPA globally would be just fine and given the price point for overseas data anyways, it is not cheap.

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  5. Shows how much PMP’s know… apparently the maps app shines over Google maps in many international locations. Life doesn’t revolve around the US.

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  6. Totally untrue. Me and my friend bought verzon iphone5 from apple store, nyc. Brought it to india, put in the sim only to realise that calls end as soon as u try n connect. Though 3 G works.

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    1. Am, I’m very curious about your experience. I’m in India now with a Verizon iphone 5 and trying to get it to work with an Airtel sim card I cut down to nano-sim size. Which network did you get 3g working on? I’m not having any luck… Would love to know more about what you, or anyone else, is doing to get these phones working internationally.

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      1. Were you able to get your phone working

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      2. Parin, I still haven’t gotten it working at all. When I put the sim card (that I cut down and sanded to nano-sim size) it does find list of carriers (which is different than what it offers with the US verizon sim). I select Airtel, but it just says “no service” and it never actually gets connected. Are you working on it?

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      3. Hey any luck with ur Verizon i5

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      4. Did you have any luck with yours yet?

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    2. Ok…are you doing this with the unsubsidized Verizone Iphone 5 variant? because if you are using the contract bound Verizon iphone 5, it is still LOCKED adn will not allow you to switch to other carriers.

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  7. AS147… good troll.. I can hear the anger in your words.. its really a shame that you feel so violent about this..

    take your g3 that got ass kicked in every test so far and go cuddle with it…

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  8. If iPhone 5 isn’t a true globetrotter than what is? Can anyone name any other LTE phone that supports 5 LTE bands used on four different continents? And the fallback pretty much covers every country in the world.
    Thank you very much.

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  9. As Abraham Lincoln once said “They who would give up an essential liberty for temporary security, deserve neither liberty or security.”

    Apple is the best tech for computer iliterates. Unfortunately, you guys are a mayority :-)

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    1. Carlos60001: what nonsense! Go play with your silly plastic droid.

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    2. @carlos60001; Uh. . . that was Benjamin Franklin that said that, not Abraham Lincoln, but that’s OK, the rest of your comment makes no sense either!! ;-)

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  10. Dorin Tudoran Tuesday, October 9, 2012

    verizon iphone 5 is LOCKED.
    I gathered the information by:

    a) Calling Verizon
    b) Discussing the issue at a verizon shop

    I cannot figure out where the “unlocked” story has orifginated from.

    Try to open the link to Washington Post story and y’oull see that it leads nowhere…

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    1. Hi Dorin,

      The Verizon iPhone 5 is locked in the sense that to initially activate you have to do so on Verizon, which means you have to do the full contract etc. You can only use Verizon’s CDMA networks as well and can’t take it to Sprint or KDDI 2G/3G networks. But the phone isn’t restricted to Verizon SIM cards so if you were to take the phone internationally you could buy a prepaid SIM card and be up and running on another carrier. You’d still be paying for your Verizon service back home, but at least you could roam without taking out a second mortgage.

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  11. I’m an American expat living in China. On a recent visit back to the US, I got myself a new iPhone 5. Couldn’t find one in a store, so I bought one on eBay. I made sure to get a Verizon version. The package was still factory sealed in plastic and unopened when I received it. After I opened my new toy, I removed the nano SIM which was branded Verizon.

    As soon as I returned to Shanghai, I went to my local China Unicom office and signed up for a new nano SIM card. China Unicom is already stocking them. Not sure about China Mobile, but I didn’t want their service anymore, since I’ve been a CM customer for years and their proprietary ’3G’ network is slow as heck.

    Long story short, I can verify that:
    a) Verizon model iPhone 5 are shipped unlock from the factory
    b) You do NOT need to ‘activate’ or even switch on your new Verizon iPhone 5 before you install a nano SIM from another carrier
    c) The Verizon model iPhone 5 absolutely does work here in China with a nano SIM from China Unicom

    *note: My Verizon iPhone 5 did NOT include a SIM tray removal tool in the box. Although the SIM tray is removable using Apple’s SIM tray tool, or a bent paper clip, such a tool is no longer included in the retail packaging. All resellers of SIM cards and any mobile accessory dealer should have plenty of Apple iPhone SIM tray removal tools on hand.

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    1. Dear Simon:

      So your Verizon i5 works on Unicom’s 3G and 2G network ??

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  12. Hi
    As the above people have many difficulties, i too have many
    I got a Verizon locked iPhone 5
    But considering the nano sim
    Will my airtel card connect to the iphone
    Because i had a blackberry which was verizon locked and i put my airtel card in it and it simply started working
    Please solve my difficulty

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    1. Hi Rishabh,

      If Airtel doesn’t offer a nano-SIM you can cut it down a microSIM to nano SIM size. You’ll find plenty of tutorials on how to do so with a Web search.

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  13. Gregory Gochtovtt Monday, December 10, 2012

    so if I want to get a verizon iphone 5 and be able to use it in afghanistan when I deploy or france when I go visit my relatives I have to go on ebay and find one of those “unlocked” iphones? is that what “unlocked sim” means?

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  14. Hi Gregory,

    It depends on what you’re looking for. The iPhone 5 on any carrier will roam in all of those countries. You’ll just have to pay astronomical roaming rates if you’re home carrier is a U.S. one. What I’m saying with the story is that Verizon allows you to use its iPhone 5 with another carrier if you choose. So if you were in Afghanistan you could get a prepaid SIM card from the local carrier and pay local rates. The when you get back to the U.S. you put the Verizon SIM back in.

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  15. I have an iPhone 4 with Verizon. I’m moving overseas and this phone can’t be used there and where I’m moving to I’d have to buy the iPhone at full price. My mom’s contract with Verizon is up so I was thinking of paying to have her upgrade to the iPhone 5 and then put my iPhone 4 on her contract before I leave. Then I’ll use the iphone5 with a local company abroad. Is this possible? Please help!

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