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Summary:

People buying the unlocked Galaxy Note 3 in regions such as Europe or North America will not be able to use a SIM card from another region in it, meaning they will have to pay exorbitant roaming fees if they travel outside the region.

Samsung SIM lock
photo: clove.co.uk

NOTE (Friday September 27th): Samsung has now said that the region-locking only applies at the time of initial activation, allowing the use of any SIM card after that.

I really thought the days of region-locking were dying with the DVD, but it seems I was wrong – Samsung has decided to revive the odious practice with its Galaxy Note 3 smartphone.

Yes, if you buy an unlocked Note 3 in Europe and travel to, say, the U.S., you will not be able to use a local SIM card. The same applies the other way round. In other words, you will be forced to pay for your carrier’s outrageous roaming fees or go Wi-Fi-only.

This fact first came out in a Wednesday blog post by the British online retailer Clove. Samsung has confirmed to me that they are really doing this, and I’m waiting on a statement.

Here’s what Clove said:

“If you travel internationally (outside Europe) and usually insert a local SIM card when in those countries, the Note 3 will NOT be able to use the local network. It will lose all mobile connectivity with the exception of emergency calls.

“For example, if you travel to the USA and insert a SIM card issued in the USA, you will not be able to use the Note 3 for any voice calls, text messages and mobile data connection. It will work via a WiFi connectivity only.”

Interestingly, Samsung Switzerland has been telling customers on Facebook (in German) that they can use non-European SIM cards in phones bought there. That directly contradicts what the stickers on the Note 3 boxes say, and what Samsung’s German PRs told me, but it’s worth mentioning.

My opinion on the matter, if expressed as I’m feeling it, would not be fit for a family-friendly publication such as this. The great advantage of the GSM telephony standard (the “G” stands for “global”, by the way) is that it puts power into the hands of the consumer. Unlike CDMA, it uses SIM cards, allowing users to easily swap carrier if needed (assuming of course that they have an unlocked phone).

Right now I can only guess that the carriers asked Samsung to region-lock its devices, so that customers will have to pay the crazy roaming rates of their home carriers while travelling in other parts of the world. But that’s speculation. Go on, Samsung, tell us why this is OK.

This post was updated at 5.50am PT to reflect the fact that this wasn’t just a European thing, as it first appeared to be, and at 6.40am PT to include a reference to Samsung Switzerland’s assurances to worried customers.

  1. who in samsung told you this exactly?

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    1. Public relations representative here in Germany.

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      1. Chandra Shekhar Friday, September 27, 2013

        Hi David,
        Very confusing statements. Why don’t you get two different sims from different regions and see how it works. I am sending my new bought GS4 back due to this reason

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        1. Check the article I link to in a note at the top of this story (put up a few hours ago when I got a new Samsung statement) – the region-locking is supposedly only an issue at first activation. Can’t test it myself, as I don’t have a new Samsung phone.

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  2. Thanks for bringing this into the open. This is an appalling practice, not consumer friendly, and worst of all, no information is being presented before purchase.

    Region locking has nothing to do on phones, and if the practice starts, anyone purchasing these products have the right to be informed beforehand so as to be able to make a choice to not purchase locked hardware. And this is on a so called d unlocked phone.. I’m with you, I want to call this practice something not fir for family friendly sites

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    1. The solution to this is to not buy any product which is intentionally crippled in ways meant to extort more money. That means you should also shun all Apple products.

      Something I have done for many years is to use an incoming number VOIP forwarding service to connect to whatever cell I am using. That way I can change service providers as often as I want transparently.

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      1. Lol, didn’t take long to have a dig at Apple.

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      2. I don’t understand what has motivated to tell an untruth but most people know, if you buy an iPhone from an Apple store it will work anywhere. Apple products aren’t internationally locked except on a case by case basis, by some carriers if you purchase on contract from the carrier. The answer is to avoid the carriers that do. Most carriers in the UK provide them unlocked.

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        1. Yeah same thing here in Australia if you buy from a carrier on contract it is locked to that carrier but even then you can call them and have that changed for $10 on some carriers and some are free. If you buy it outright you can use it anywhere. Got to love people hating on Apple, especially ones that make a point of saying they don’t even use their products.

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      3. Samsung announced its not. rushed out article it should have checked with Samsung, shame.

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      4. Damage is done by lazy writing, could have checked with Samsung. Again the article is not true, think even logically it makes sense or not.

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        1. I did check with Samsung before writing the article, as it says in the article.

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          1. If you had checked with samsung then how did you get your facts so blatently wrong? Terrible article, shame.

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            1. Samsung got Samsung’s facts blatantly wrong, thank you very much. And in fact, as other readers are now proving (http://youtu.be/ri_tz6HlsKo), it may well be that the region lock does apply beyond initial activation, despite what Samsung has said.

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    2. Btw., HP does region locking for their printers as well. You can change the region of the printer, but it took me about an hour or two to go through the process, while someone from HP was on the phone. Thankfully you rarely travel with your printer.

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      1. How the hell do you region lock a printer?

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        1. Maybe via the ink cartridges.

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  3. This is madness for international travellers – to have to pay European telco roaming rates in Austalia or US when have bought an “unlocked” non-carrier phone in the first place is ridiculous.

    Also:
    – Samsung appear to be making it difficult to root the phone by locking bootloader.
    – plus their customer service is dire in my experience.

    Speaking as owner of an SGS, SGS 2 and SGS3 and having gone into store to buy a note 3 I have now choked at sucking up more of this unnecessary corporate greed unless the phone is truly unlocked.

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    1. Now spoken to customer service centre on +44 330 7267864. Still hopeful that Samsung may get this resoved as some of their UK customer reps seem as surprised as me at the region lock fiasco. It definitely applies now not just to Note 3 but Galaxy S4s and other Notes distributed to stores since July 2013.

      I am awaiting call back from Tier 2 rep to see if will allow unlock of regional lock (given I am buying off-contract/unlocked/SIM free in the first place). Will Samsung HQ have a change of heart? Will there be a workaround perhaps for payment to Samsung of fee, or if not details of where (eg HK) that one has to go to buy a truly unlocked Samsung phone?

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      1. Not quite sure of the S4 – I have a US T-Mobile S4, worked just fine with a Three sim in the UK last week.

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        1. Only devices made since July are affected. Just read that a guy that manages a phone shop has seen the sticker on the new batch of S4 devices that came in as well.

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        2. Only devices made since end of July are affected. Just read that a guy that manages a phone shop has seen the sticker on the new batch of S4 devices that came in as well.

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          1. The Mobile Network Code (MNC) for each carrier together with the Mobile Country Code (MCC) identifies the Public Land Mobile Network (PLMN). You can get an unlock for the MNC and the PLMN. However the region lock in new Samsung Galaxy phones seems to be being implemented by including in the broadband firmware a whitelist of the MCCs which a regional version of the relevant phone can accept – if the MCC of the SIM you want to insert in the phone is not on the list, then tough it will not work.

            As the whitelist of acceptable MCCs is controlled through the CSC (Consumer Software Customisation) which is th broadband firmware, it would most probably need the CSC to be reflashed and thereby lies a problem as it is unlikely now to be just a question of entering an unlock code. Moreover as Samsung has now take to locking the bootloader taking it into one’s own hands to revise and reflash the CSC with an unsigned but more permissive version is going to result in warranty issues even if it can be done. The result is that if you travel on holiday or for work to a different region you will not have the MCC listed in the CSC relevant to the local SIM you might otherwise wish to insert in your own phone and therefore the local SIM will not work.

            Even Apple is not this consumer unfriendly.

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            1. That’s really interesting – can I ask where those details come from?

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            2. A combination of XDA, androidpolice and wikipedia. Trying to confirm with Samsung as well – they promised yesterday to have a Tier 2 rep call me back today.

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  4. Thanks, this should be brought out quickly. No one is informed about this and many retailers don’t know about the region lock either. I received my Note 3 about an hour ago and returned it straight away as I need a phone that I can use when outside of Europe. Major disappointment Samsung, you’ve just lost a customer.

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    1. Can you confirm that the sticker was on the box of your unit too, Luc?

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      1. Yes, it was. I have contacted a lot of other retailers here in the Netherlands and they all seem to have the stickers on the boxes. Same case for my friends in the UK. I’m planning to go to China tomorrow for a longer period and won’t be able to use the phone there so have returned it. Contacted Samsung and they have told me the following:

        “Hi Luc,
        Unfortunately it is not possible to unlock the phone. On the package and in the user manual it clearly states that there is a Regional Lock on this device. It is however possible to use European simcards in China, but you can’t put a Chinese simcard in this device.
        Best regards,
        Samsung Mobile NL”

        This shouldn’t be allowed on a phone that I paid 750 euros or more than 600 pounds for! Guess I can start returning all of the accessories that I have already bought as well..

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        1. That is outrageous. I suspect/hope the regulators will have a fit.

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          1. Why? Sure seems like customer backlash will take care of things without having to involve taxpayer money.

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            1. Hopefully you’re right – although Samsung’s position in the market would make it a regulatory issue, particularly if they’re doing it with other phones in their range (as another commenter suggests below).

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            2. People will hopefully stop buying Samsung phones. This is the best thing that could have happened to HTC, Nokia, etc. Samsung’s marketshare will drop like a stone.

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            3. Pfft if you think that’s going to stop me from buying the fastest most advanced cell phone in the world you have another thing coming, some of us don’t give a hoots ass about having it work overseas, which this phone can do once activated locally, lol i think it hilarious that you think that you can somehow stop the behemoth that is Samsung by not buying their product, that’s like hoping to stop slaughterhouses by not buying meat products, ROFL good luck, ill stick my blazing fast snapdragon 800 on my Note 3 thank you very much.

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            4. Blackberry was once a behemoth. Manufacturers who antagonize their customers have competitors who are happy to fill the void. For myself, I will now stick with my current Note handset as I look for a better replacement (not a new Samsung).

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        2. Unbelievable. I would return it immediately.

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      2. I got my Note 3 at the Tuesday evening launch party in London. It has the sticker.

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  5. This is silly. I was thinking of getting the Note 3 from Dubai (UAE) where its around the £460 mark or AED 2,699. What’s the point if it’s not going to work in UK. I think Samsung have deliberately doing this to prevent consumers purchasing from aboard. The phone will always be more expensive in UK because of stupid VAT which automatically levies 20% on the normal price. Perhaps the Government should scrap VAT on phones!

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  6. I’m actually speechless. With one inhibitive draconian decision they’ve just lost a rather large order from my company. The Note 3 is an ideal business phone but with staff regularly travelling O/S, region locking makes this economically unreasonable for us. Why has Samsung or their retailers said nothing about this? The first we hear is a sticker on the side of the box at time of purchase and omitting that information pre-sale seems purposely dishonest. Stupid, stupid move which will sour many business relationships with Samsung. By region-locking the N3 they might hinder some grey imports, but crippling an international-capable phone will just mean an overall loss of sales for Samsung – and frankly that makes no sense. I can only assume such a decision has come from telcos or governments, but until Samsung release a statement about it, they’ve just lost a lot of respect and a previously loyal customer.

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    1. HTC will gladly take your business. Or Nokia. Or Lenovo. Or LG. Or …

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  7. It gets better – Samsung will let me use in my unlocked phone a SIM from a Vatican City mobile operator, but not say a US or Korean one. So why is Samsung supporting Vatican City mobile operators when I want to us my phone in US or Korea?

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  8. I think something seriously needs to be addressed by Samsung IMMEDIATELY. My hopes of getting this dream phone Samsung Galaxy Note 3 are shattered! What’s the point of spending a hefty contract, to know your phone will not work say in USA or Dubai. I might as well stick to my old Galaxy S3 as it works around the world with the SIM of the country! SAMSUNG PLEASE UNLOCK THE GALAXY NOTE 3 AND MAKE THEM GLOBAL!!! and can Samsung PLEASE release a dual SIM version of Galaxy Note 3 which works worldwide.
    Guys do you all agree with me?

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  9. I am livid about this. Thank you so much for posting the article. I was searching frantically for information last night, with only a couple of small articles and an XDA thread mentioning it. I’m hoping the bigger sites such as yourself and others will really push this. We deserve absolute clarification from Samsung as to which models from which regions will be afflicted with this “feature” and, just as importantly, why they feel they are justified in screwing legitimate customers with thus utter insanity.

    I have a preorder from T-Mobile USA but am on the verge of canceling since there is no confirmation if my version will be affected by this or not (it’s a carrier version, so I’d bet it will be).

    Negri Electronics (US-based importer) are claiming their stock (Latin America N9000 non-LTE) is not impacted by this, so perhaps its only on certain variants or regions that Samsung are doing this. Then again, Negri also told me that the US T-Mobile they will stock (pre-order currently) will also not be affected. That may well be true, but I’m not sure how they can say that for sure, since the UK importers Handtec and Clove seemed to find out about this restriction on their models (N9005 or SM-N9005 it’s unclear which…) until their stock physically arrived.

    Samsung are completely out of order and we should vote with our wallets until they reverse this decision. If we let them get away with this, it’s only a mater of time until other manufacturers jump on the bandwagon.

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    1. A Tmobile rep just confirmed that their phone will be locked to the US region. So your options are:

      -Cancel preorder now
      -Wait and hope that Samsung reverses this policy
      -Wait and hope that devs and come up with a work around but live with the fact that Samsung is still not a company you want to do business with.

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    2. Absolutely people should stand up for their freedom
      I was loyal custumer and when I heard this I was shocked as Samsung are following apple shit of limitation customer freedom … What the hell .. But if people are consistent they win this battle of corporations against individuality and personal freedom . We should say No! to this and let them know that they have done a mistake !
      I will keep my old phone just in case other crazy company will this shit

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  10. The reason is probably less so operators, but more so to be able to price discriminate between the regions. Of course that makes it a no go for most professionally traveling folks – us who are willing to pay for an unsponsored phone or tablet so that we can use different SIMs. Paying $1,000/GB data roaming is not an option.

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