It used to be the case that if you traveled extensively overseas, Verizon Wireless(s vz)(s vod) 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(s aapl). 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(s 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.