Blog Post

Samsung: We don’t region-lock our phones (apart from when you first activate them)

Samsung shed further light on its region-locking policies on Friday, explaining that the locks only affect users the first time they activate the handset. The manufacturer also said the locks apply not only to the new Galaxy Note 3, as we reported on Thursday, but also to units of the Galaxy S4, Galaxy S4 mini, Galaxy Note II and Galaxy S III that were produced after July.

In a nutshell, this means that — apart from the first time they put a SIM card in the phone — buyers of these devices are able to use cards from other parts of the world without restriction. They are not forced to pay their domestic carrier’s usurious roaming fees.

Samsung said this in a German-language statement emailed to me by its German press relations agency. At the time of writing, I haven’t seen any English-language statement on the matter.

No roaming lock-in

Samsung’s explanation should certainly ease the minds of those worried about buying a new Samsung Android(s goog) smartphone and taking it with them as they travel to another part of the world. That said, I’ve seen a report today on of someone in Sweden properly activating their Galaxy Note 3, only to find it still won’t work with a Thai SIM card. So stay tuned, because this may not be over yet.

Anyhow, here’s how the system is supposed to work, according to Samsung’s German reps: let’s say you buy the device in Germany and want to take it with you on a trip to the U.S. If you activate it for the first time using a German SIM card, you’re good to go. If you want to activate it for the first time with a U.S. SIM card while abroad, you will need to find a local Samsung service partner to unlock it for you.

Once that initial activation has been accomplished, you can use the phone with whatever SIM card you want.

Outstanding questions

What Samsung’s German spokespeople weren’t able to clarify, however, were these points:

  • Why did Samsung do this?
  • Why do the stickers on the retail boxes clearly say the phones are not compatible with SIM cards from other regions, if that is not the case?
  • Do Samsung service partners have to unlock all devices that are presented to them?

Then there are the technical questions, about how Samsung applies the locks (SIM module firmware? Software?) – hopefully these too will be answered in time.

The question about service partners’ obligations is important, because the most likely (albeit still unconfirmed) explanation for this whole debacle is that Samsung instituted the locks in an attempt to combat gray-market sales — a European buying a phone from Hong Kong over eBay(s ebay) to save money, for example.

However, if Samsung service partners have to unlock any improperly activated Galaxy Note 3 or S4 that the customer wants, then this measure becomes one of inconvenience rather than genuine enforcement.

PR disaster?

Either way, it looks like an issue that will only be annoying for a small subset of people, namely those who buy their phones from other regions of the world and those who buy them at the airport before flying to another region and trying to activate it for the first time there. Most people buy their phones from a local carrier or retailer and activate it in their home country. And even those who are affected can fix the problem.

That’s not to say it’s a consumer-friendly way of going about things, because it plainly isn’t, but it’s a far cry from being a deal-breaker.

But even if that’s the case, then Samsung made a grave error by putting misleading stickers on its stock. Even retailers naturally assumed that a sticker reading “This product is only compatible with a SIM-card issued from a mobile operator within Europe” (for example) means just that.

After all, why on earth would any company tell its customers that the smartphone they’re buying is restricted in such an unreasonable way, when that’s not the case? That’s the question I really want to see answered.

UPDATE (Monday 30 September): Here’s an English-language statement that Samsung put out, followed by a video of a user apparently showing it to be incorrect (he activated a Europe-region phone in the Netherlands with a Dutch SIM card and it works, but it won’t work with Thai SIM cards):

In order to provide customers with the optimal mobile experience in each region including customer care services, Samsung has incorporated the ‘regional SIM lock’ feature into Galaxy Note 3 devices.

The product is only compatible with a SIM-card issued from a mobile operator within the region identified on the sticker of the product package. When the device is activated with a SIM card issued from the other region, the device may be automatically locked until it is released at the dedicated service center.

Once a device is activated normally, the regional SIM lock is automatically released. Users can enjoy the roaming service as usual and can use other region’s SIM card when travelling.

The regional SIM lock has been applied to the Galaxy Note II and Galaxy S4 devices through a software update in selective markets.

The regional SIM lock does not affect the device’s features and performance. Users can continue to enjoy all the advanced features of our products.

37 Responses to “Samsung: We don’t region-lock our phones (apart from when you first activate them)”

  1. santhosh.nagavalli

    hi im from INDIA i want to import galaxy note 3 n9005 model from USA
    please friends anybody let me know whether note 3 n9005 model will work in india r not
    if works …is there any software/OS problem while updating OS ….jellbean to kitkat

    plz send me details to [email protected]

  2. Rolf Westerberg

    Samsung does’t tell the true my Samsung galaxy Note 3 from Sweden is not possible to use in Thailand!This is a big Lose for Samsungs reputation and for the consumer!

  3. This is indeed an odd way of looking at customers.The removable battery and the set of nice features made me almost buy an S4 to replace my HTC desire z. But seems now that it will boil down to HTC one and a nice external charger… This is when marketing people make you follow their rules instead of what is no problem technicallly. And big surprise: Globalization comes with people traveling. What a pain, Samsung!!

  4. Of course Samsung is region-locking! It even says so on the information provided with the S4 when you buy it (and you only notice it after you have bought it and encountered the problems already): “This device can only be used with sim-card providers for mobile services in Europe”

  5. This a short-sighted politic of Samsung, I thing. Probably they want to release place to HTC, Sony, Motorol, Windows Phone etc.

    I am not gong to buy Samsung mobile in the future. At present I have a Galaxy s4, regionally locked. When I spoke to the local service in Australia they were very surprised if there is something like regional lock.

    I am going to get rid it and buy HTC Butterfly S.

  6. Tchai Charoen

    And this the comment form CLOVE UK

    “Josh Bethell says:

    October 2, 2013 at 1:48 pm

    A quick thank you from everyone at Clove for the level of understanding in this comment thread and the odd customer testimony too!

    This is undoubtedly a huge frustration – sure we’ve lost sales which no business enjoys; however it’s the confusion and extra work this has caused which compounds things. There have been industry mutterings reported by some news sites that this type of behaviour could be in the works from major manufacturers. It is pretty upsetting though that it was not communicated to us and other retailers fully until the procedure was finalised, orders had been placed and stock arrived.

    We hate disappointing our customers, which in this case we’ve had to do many times over by cancelling and refunding orders, in some cases to long standing and valued international clients.

    By the end of this week we should have a definitive update on the situation. We sent a Note 3 to offsite colleague Wardy in Thailand last week. He activated this there with a UK SIM. He could roam on the UK SIM but could not use his local Thai SIM, seeing the unlock SIM screen before he could proceed.

    We have since sent UK activated handsets to a few choice customers this week, on the basis that they can return them if they do not work with their local SIMs. These customers are in regions that include Africa, North America and the Middle East.

    Regardless of information from Samsung or anecdotes on forums and other blogs, we are conducting our own research on this, at our own costs, to cover all the bases.

    Especially now we are also beginning to see other Samsung devices (new stock of the S4 & S4 Mini) with the same restrictions and warning stickers on the packaging. We want to be 100% certain of the message we give out to anyone wanting to purchase a new Samsung device and provide any support we can to legitimate international clients

    You can see that he being test already what Samsung say is not correct.

      • Tchai Charoen

        Something big and Bad coming….

        “the rollout of Kitkat is to extend the regional lock to existing SGS3s and Note 2s – I asked if my existing unlocked SGS3 bought unlocked over a year ago is to be subject to the same regional lock if I upgrade. Yes according to rep. So I would not be able to use SIM from outside the European region in it when travelling? Yes according to the rep.”

        This just 1 past of the post from the guy xda forum

        and now if it is not so much bother you. Please read this page.

  7. It’s such a shame. Up until now I have purchased genuinely unlocked iPhones and used them around the world on my travels no problem. However Apple seem to be pushing the same old revamped iPhone 5,yawwwn, so time to move on….. I really want to move to Android and spent a lot of time researching my prospective phone of choice of which I picked the Galaxy Note 3. I’m loathed to buy it though until Samsung get their act together and remove this stupid region lock…SORT IT OUT and you will have a new customer until then i’m staying put.

  8. Please keep us up to date about his issue. I got Note 1 Note 2 and I am planning to buy Note 3. working in hospitality business I am travelling a lot and I will not tolerate any kind of litigation.
    If that will be the case I will not buy a Samsung Anymore…. :)

    • Tchai Charoen

      “The rollout of Kitkat is to extend the regional lock to existing SGS3s and Note 2s – I asked if my existing unlocked SGS3 bought unlocked over a year ago is to be subject to the same regional lock if I upgrade. Yes according to rep. So I would not be able to use a SIM from outside the European region in it when travelling? Yes according to the rep.”

      This just 1 past of the post from the guy xda forum

      and now if it is not so much bother you. Please read this page.

  9. Hi (sorry for my English)

    I buy the note 3 from studenmobile . nl it is Netherland webshop for phone

    I use the Dutch sim card (Vadafone, Tele2, T-mobile) for calling chatting internet.

    As i read a lot of news about this. I should can now just put Thai sim card in it already. But it not working it still ned a clod for unlock the sim.

    I try all the Thai Sim card i have…. AIS, True Companay, DTAC. None of it working.

    I also call to Samsung support in Netherland. Samsung Service – en Informatielijn
    Tel: 0900-SAMSUNG (0900-7267864) (10 c/m)

    I get 3 different answer.
    First one She only say just follow what the box say if you have problem with it just change the phone within 7 day.

    Second one say.. I just go to the any simlock free shop for ask for helping. But the phone will only working a about 14 Day in Thailand if i make it a simlock free and use Thai Simcard. Or if i want to use longer i have to ask from Thai provider.

    Third one. She not even know what I’m talking about. I mean she not know about this model. When i say Galaxy note 3,she not know., SN-N9005 she not know. I have to told her the serial number and many thing before she know that this model is available.

    From the all answer I get. It seem like they not aware this problem yet in Nederland. Or they not being train yet what they have to do. Or they being trail only say do what the box say if you do not want it just return and buy something else.

    I also go to Samsung Service Center (Maastricht) that in the Vadafone shop . First thing i feel is they not welcome me as I am a customer because I did not but the phone from them. What they only say just try to call to where i buy this phone. So what the point to be a Samsung Service Center if you not help costumer who buy the Samsung phone.

    Now i think i have to wait till this thing be aware in Nederland.

    If someone also from NL whom have this phone. Do you have a same problem ?

    thank you for reading

  10. I WAS a Samsung fan until now ! This kind of attitude is exactly why I never bought an Iphone! I really thought the people at Samsung were better then that ! :( Now, they decide not to sell the 64g version in Thailand and sim block the countries where they do sell them. And they still expect people to buy their product ???? Well they can count me out and it seems to be the general opinion around here ! Good Luck Samsung, If you want to commit suicide, you’ll find most people will be happy to let you.

  11. Anshul Bhardwaj

    I think it is done to maintain price difference in various parts of the world. Right now, you can buy a top end smartphone for $600-700 in USA and sell it for $900+ in most parts if Asia if box packed. (If opened or used, you can’t command $900). The quality has improved so much that people are ready to buy without warranty to save $200+.

  12. John King

    “That’s not to say it’s a consumer-friendly way of going about things, because it plainly isn’t, but it’s a far cry from being a deal-breaker.”

    Unfortunately it is a deal breaker for me. This just should not be there in first place and I cannot be bothered with the hassle of dealing with a company that appears to be trying very hard to make sure some persons in some countries pay over the top for for the same product available at a much lower price in another country. Personally I will never deal with a company that looks at me in this way. Bye bye Samsung, I liked you for a while.

    “If you want to activate it for the first time with a U.S. SIM card while abroad, you will need to find a local Samsung service partner to unlock it for you.”

    Yeah, well lets think about that then. So this seems to be saying that it will be unlocked anyway, which really raises the question why bother putting the lock in place in the first place? The real question here is what are Samsung really trying to achieve with doing this because it does not actually look like it is about grey market sales, more like forcing persons to go into places with the phone and give up personal information so that Samsung can track a person with the phone. Anyone else involved in forcing this to be? NSA? GCHQ? Why else would a company care who has the phone after the sale, and why have differing prices for different regions? No explanation has been forthcoming I note.

    • I bought my samsung S4 when am about leaving USA to Nigeria and t came with Tmobile SIM card. I didn’t activate it before leaving the USA. I am now in Nigeria, what do I have to do so I can use my phone with Nigeria local SIM card? I am afraid to open the phone after reading people’s comment. Any useful reply.

  13. What seems particularly incomprehensible to me is that Samsung is rolling out the region lock to all those Galaxy variants upgrading to Kitkat which currently have no such restriction. If those who are already activated can already use other region’s SIMs what purpose could applying the region lock serve in the KitKat update? Seems consumer unfriendly and regrettable if Samsung is now intent on introducing regional whitelists of MCCs in all Samsung radio firmware as part of its ongoing mobile strategy.

  14. I bought the Note II not long after it first came out in the US, and when I traveled to Europe earlier this year, I had to get it unlocked by T-Mobile before I could use it there. T-Mobile gave me an unlock code just for the asking, but would have been more than an inconvenience if I didn’t have other phones with me to get in touch with T-Mobile to tell them about the problem in the first place.

    A phone that you own outright should not have any restrictions on its use.

    • This is a different beast altogether. You received an unlock code so the note II could work on a different carrier Europe. Now there is a lock on the region so even if you have a carrier unlock, it won’t work if the carrier is not in the home region.

  15. I just spoke to Christopher Cross (a Tier 2 rep) in Samsung UK who was calling me back to explain position on region lock.

    – He said that there is a region lock and that it’s application after activation is a “grey area” which they have been discussing with engineers all day.

    – He said there is no way currently to get service centre to remove regional lock.

    – He agreed that there are some SIM providers outside Europe on whitelist.

    – He confirmed that this region lock policy applies to galaxy 3 and 4 and note 2 and 3 which are being distributed now.

    – He said that this will apply to all Samsung mobiles accepting Kitkat mobile update due to come out shortly!!!

    They are still waiting for further update from Samsung management this evening. He recommended I do NOT buy Note 3 if I am concerned about region lock at least until clarity as to whether can be removed.

    • David Meyer

      Gosh – sounds like the left hand really doesn’t know what the right hand is doing. I have to say, I’m a bit concerned that there’s still no English-language statement (though I did speak with the German PR to make sure I understood the German statement – sadly, after two years living here, my German is still not good enough to be entirely confident on such matters).

      • I think it’s safe to take the sticker at face value. The sales reps are clearly uninformed.

        In addition to the person you cited above, gfung on XDA forums activated a UK Note 3 with his vodaphone sim and then tried a Hong Kong sim with roaming enabled. No dice. The Hong Kong sim didn’t work. It’s region locked.

        Sorry to everyone who wanted a Note 3. Do not buy it. It is obviously region locked.