Your cellphone is said to be factory unlocked if it comes with no SIM card and no requirement to sign up with a specific carrier. As such, you can make use of it on more than a single network with the aid of the Global System for Mobile Communication tech. For instance, you can use an unlocked iPhone on AT&T, T-Mobile as well as any non-American carriers via GSM networks. But you may have heard of the term chip-unlocked iPhone? What does chip-unlocked iPhone mean?
Some years ago, Apple started offering unlocked iPhones for sale in its own stores. But due to the presence of an additional level of security, iPhone owners cannot use mobile apps that are not on the App Store. Solving this problem, some users only regard an iPhone as fully unlocked when it no longer has this restriction, and the process of getting rid of this restriction is called “jailbreaking“.
But jailbreaking an iPhone is not the same as unlocking it. Unlocking an iPhone allows it to be used with a different carrier, while jailbreaking it involves modifying the operating system to allow for the installation of unauthorized or unsupported software. Jailbreaking may void the phone’s warranty and could potentially compromise the security of the device.
If you’re looking to buy a new or used iPhone, you would want to know what a chip-unlocked iPhone is and the differences between purchasing a locked iPhone, a network-unlocked iPhone, or factory-unlocked iPhone. Today’s post takes a look at these issues and also sheds light on the disadvantages of buying a chip-unlocked iPhone.
Understanding a Chip-Unlocked iPhone
A locked iPhone can be unlocked with the use of a chip known as RSIM, which could be GEVEY, TPSIM, and other similar products depending on the chipmaker. The resulting device becomes a chip-unlocked iPhone. The unlocking procedure goes as follows: Put your SIM (Vodafone, Airtel, GLO, or any other networks) on the chip, and insert the two together into your phone. You will now see your network.
When you have carried out this process, your device will work like a factory-unlocked iPhone, so long your SIM card is on the RSIM. Like the majority of cellphones sold on the US markets, an iPhone is usually locked to one mobile network. As of now, you can purchase it via carriers like Verizon Wireless and AT&T.
One of the common reasons cellphone users will opt for an unlocked phone is that they will be able to use it on other network carriers. An unlocked iOS-powered device is usable on all GSM networks, including T-Mobile, AT&T, along with several foreign cellphone networks.
Also, by unlocking your iPhone, when on a trip to a foreign country, you will be able to buy a SIM card for your destination country and connect your mobile device to a GSM network in the country. This will help cut down on roaming fees and also gives you a local number in that country that you will find really useful if you are a business traveller.
What Are the Differences between Unlocked & Locked iPhones?
Before Apple began selling factory-unlocked iPhones (meaning that you bought the phone from the manufacturer directly in an unlocked state), every iPhone sold on the US markets were “locked to” their original carriers. And this condition was applicable whether the user paid full price or purchased the device under contract.
With the aid of a passcode, the phones are locked. And this passcode is known as a service programming code or master subsidy lock.
It prevents the user from gaining access to the programming menu of the iPhone and also making use of the handset on a different carrier’s network.
While factory-unlocked iPhones have always been sold in Europe, they only got introduced in 2011 in the US.
Why Are iPhones Typically Sold Locked?
When the iPhone first launched on June 29, 2007, in the United States, Apple and AT&T made an exclusive deal. While a user could still activate the device on another GSM carrier, this only becomes possible by hacking (jailbreaking) the iPhone.
When you purchase a locked iPhone, its price is cheaper, as the carrier is selling it to you at a discounted price to encourage you to sign up for a lengthy contract. And the phone company will then recoup the price it lost from the iPhone sale at a discounted price over the contract life. If you break the contract early, this will attract a penalty in the form of a substantial cancellation fee.
Will an Unlocked iPhone Contain a SIM Card?
No, an unlocked iPhone you buy directly from Apple will not include a SIM. But no need to worry as when you choose the cellphone company to use, you can get a SIM card from that company on signing up.
Is It Possible to Use the iPhone with More Than One Carrier at Once?
Yes. You need two things for this: active service as well as an active SIM card from the two companies. To switch the company (in addition to the phone number assigned to your mobile device) that you are using, simply swap the SIM cards in your iPhone. What about those iPhone models with dual-SIM support? We will discuss this shortly.
Will an Unlocked iPhone Work with Any Phone Company?
Yes, every modern iPhone works with any of the popular mobile phone companies, such as the big carriers in the United States (T-Mobile, Verizon, AT&T, and Sprint).
This is owing to the fact that they provide support for both GSM phone networks (that are used by T-Mobile and AT&T) and CDMA (that are used by Verizon and Sprint). On switching from one company to the other, you may have to buy a new SIM card for the new cellphone company; if not, your device will stay the same.
Is It Okay to Buy an Unlocked Phone with the Dual SIM Models?
The iPhone models that come with Dual-SIM support include the XS, the XS Max, the XR, the iPhone 11, and the 11 Pro. On any of these devices, you can use two SIM cards at once. The 1st SIM is a physical card and the second a software-based eSIM. Since two SIMs are available here, there is no need to get an unlocked phone.
You may choose to have the primary SIM card tied to a specific company and make use of the 2nd only for short-term situations, such as overseas travel. Alternatively, you may choose to keep the two SIMs unlocked to enjoy optimum flexibility.
The choice you make will depend on the way you want to make use of the iPhone. While some users go for unlocked phones on principle, others find the flexibility of the dual SIM configuration enough.
Unlocking an Existing iPhone — Is That Even Possible?
Yes, it is quite possible to unlock the majority of iPhones, even if they were originally locked when you got them. To be eligible for this, you shouldn’t be under contract with a cellphone company and must have paid off all your remaining installments on the device.
You won’t be able to do the unlocking yourself, so you are to request the service from your phone company.
The process is generally fairly easy and could either involve calling customer support or filling out an online form. However, each company carries it out differently. You can learn more about how to unlock your iPhone on the online page of your specific phone company.
What Are the Disadvantages of a Chip-Unlocked iPhone?
One major disadvantage of a chip-unlocked iPhone is that you will always require the chip for your SIM to work in the device. Your SIM card has to be inserted into the phone with the RSIM, without which you will not be able to obtain a network signal. As such, if for any reason, the RSIM is damaged or goes missing, your SIM is useless.
Chip-unlocked iPhones are also more expensive, and that is their primary disadvantage. As the cost of locked phones is subsidized by the carrier, you will find locked iPhones cheaper to purchase upfront. If you intend using the original carrier for as long as you’ve the device and wouldn’t travel abroad, you might not really be gung-ho about getting an unlocked phone.
Any Advantages of an Unlocked iPhone?
The main advantage you will get in an unlocked iPhone is that you will be able to transfer the service to another network carrier without the need to jailbreak. The jailbreaking process is replete with complicated steps and invalidates the manufacturer’s warranty on your device.
To activate a factory-unlocked GSM iPhone on a carrier, you can simply switch your SIM, enabling you to make use of your device on foreign network carriers when on a trip to a foreign country.
However, activating a CDMA iPhone will require slightly more work since you are required to utilize special software for changing your iPhone’s network settings. You can activate a CDMA phone on any network carrier, which accepts the procedure.
In a Nutshell
A chip-unlocked iPhone is a device unlocked with the use of a chip known as RSIM, which could be GEVEY, TPSIM, and other similar products depending on the chipmaker.
Understanding what a chip-unlocked iPhone is and what the disadvantages they offer are, will help you make a smart buying decision if you are looking to get a new phone or make the most of your existing iOS device.
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Deji is a web content developer and tech writer, who is passionate about tech-related topics and issues. A graduate of Physics from the University of Ibadan, he loves writing, conducting research, playing football, and meeting people of diverse backgrounds and interests.
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2 thoughts on “What Is a Chip-Unlocked iPhone, and What Are the Disadvantages?”
Thank you so much sir.. really helps
“A couple of years ago, Apple started to offer “unlocked” iPhones in its stores”.
As far as I’m aware, Apple UK have only ever sold unlocked iPhones in their stores. You could always swap out a UK SIM for a Malaysian or US SIM without restriction as it wasn’t subsidised by a network as you were paying full price for the device. Locked iPhones are usually available via network providers or third party sellers.