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Cellphones Handhelds Networking Wireless Networking

Why Unlocked Phones Don't Work In the US 442

Posted by timothy
from the they're-just-not-trying-hard-enough dept.
schnell writes "Unlocked cellular devices have long been a part of the wireless landscape in Europe and elsewhere. But longtime industry analyst Andrew Seybold explains why that model doesn't work in the US due to technology and frequency differences, and why LTE adoption may not make things any better."
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Why Unlocked Phones Don't Work In the US

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  • Yeah right. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday November 11, 2010 @09:14PM (#34203240)
    Technology and frequency differences? You've got to be shitting me. They don't work because the cell operators are greedy assholes.
    • Re:Yeah right. (Score:5, Insightful)

      by ScrewMaster (602015) * on Thursday November 11, 2010 @09:22PM (#34203298)

      Technology and frequency differences? You've got to be shitting me. They don't work because the cell operators are greedy assholes.

      It would be interesting if the cell phone manufacturers offered a swappable, standardized radio module that would pop in and out like the battery. That way you could buy an expensive smartphone, and leverage that investment by just picking up a new radio module to move to a new network. Of course, the reality is that these pricks can't even agree on a particular power plug, so I wouldn't hold your breath and besides, they're perfectly happy if you are forced to buy a brand-new phone just to go to a different wireless provider.

      • Re:Yeah right. (Score:5, Interesting)

        by h4rr4r (612664) on Thursday November 11, 2010 @09:25PM (#34203308)

        Other than Apple who is not using the micro USB interface these days?

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by puto (533470)
          Samsung I think. They love to have proprietary connectors.
          • Re:Yeah right. (Score:5, Informative)

            by h4rr4r (612664) on Thursday November 11, 2010 @09:42PM (#34203416)

            Galaxy line uses micro USB.

          • by mmj638 (905944)

            No, Samsung use them.

            According to w'pedia:

            As of January 30, 2009 Micro-USB has been accepted by almost all cell phone manufacturers as the standard charging port (including HTC, Motorola, Nokia, LG, Hewlett-Packard, Samsung, Sony Ericsson, Research In Motion) in the EU and most of the world. Worldwide conversion to the new cellphone charging standard is expected to be completed between 2010 to 2012.

          • by bloodhawk (813939)
            I think samsung coped enough abuse with there proprietary connectors that they have now mostly gone to micro USB as well. Though I still have my blackjack II, love the phone but I would like to bitch slap samsung sooo hard for the fucking proprietary connector.
            • It wasn't about customer abuse, the FCC finally had enough and told them somewhat back door to either standardize themselves, or they were going to set a standard and force it. It came about much like the way the rating system with movies did.

          • by Lord Kano (13027)

            Samsung I think. They love to have proprietary connectors.

            I have a Samsung with a micro USB port.

            LK

        • Re:Yeah right. (Score:5, Informative)

          by MtHuurne (602934) on Thursday November 11, 2010 @10:27PM (#34203698) Homepage
          There is a reason for that: after the EU said "either you lot pick a single charger plug or we'll do it for you", the phone manufacturers decided to standardize on micro USB. You'll find that most of the other differences between the US and EU cell phone markets are also due to pressure from the EU: cell operators are not nicer on this side of the pond, they are just kept on a tighter leash.
          • Re:Yeah right. (Score:5, Informative)

            by tlhIngan (30335) <slashdot@wor[ ]et ['f.n' in gap]> on Friday November 12, 2010 @01:22AM (#34204394)

            Unfortunately, a standardized plug does diddly if you don't standardize how to charge.

            There are a few billion ways you can charge from USB. There's the good old dumb "assume 500mA" method - where you assume you can draw 500mA from USB. Works fine for PCs and their chargers, but not so much if your USB host is power-limited.

            Then there's the USB charging spec - where the charger shorts D+ and D- lines, and the device assumes it can draw the appropriate amount of current as the charger it comes with - 500mA, 800mA, 1A, 2A. Again, no standard on how to pick the current, so a device is free to draw as much as possible.

            There's the Apple method, where resistors on D+ and D- lines tell the device how much power the charger can provide to prevent drawing too much power (iPods start at 100mA until enumerated at 500mA or more, or connected to a charger where it can select 500mA, 1A or 2A).

            There's also using the ID line with resistors that identify the device - an ADC converts the voltage to identify the accessory (charger, car kit, high-current charger, etc).

            There's also the USB high power spec, but that's for USB hosts that can provide more power.

            Even worse, I've seen some devices destroy the charger because they assume the manufacturer's charger and draw more current than the charger can provide.

            Fun fun fun.

            Anyhow, at least for iPhone users, you can buy iPhones in Canada which are fully unlocked from Apple stores in Canada. I've seen a number of US people come to Canada to buy unlocked iPhones.

        • by AmigaMMC (1103025)
          Last year all phone manufacturer's got together and decided, for environmental reasons and to save money in production to swap to USB. All of them agreed except for one, guessed who already? Yep! Apple!
        • Other than Apple who is not using the micro USB interface these days?

          I would bet at this point I would be more likely to find an iPod charging cable in a store, than a USB cable.

          Think about it. Imagine trying to buy a cable - I could see a handful of iPhone accessories in a 7-11, but probably not a micro-usb cable.

          Normally proprietary cables are bad news, but ubiquity always trumps universality.

          • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

            by punit_r (1080185)

            Think about it. Imagine trying to buy a cable - I could see a handful of iPhone accessories in a 7-11, but probably not a micro-usb cable.

            Normally proprietary cables are bad news, but ubiquity always trumps universality.

            Now what does that tell a person ? Pick one ore more from the below
            (1) Micro-usb sells a lot more than the proprietary apple cable. It runs out of stock sooner.
            (2) Standardization is good. No store keeper finds it lucrative to sell overpriced proprietary cables.
            (3) Standardization allows users to use one cable with multiple accessories. Hence, reducing market demand.

      • by JWSmythe (446288)

        I seriously doubt that would happen. You and I are end consumers. We each count for one phone each (usually). The cell provider is the big customer. They buy in bulk of tens of thousands. It's pretty clear who has the leverage. It's in the best interest of the cell phone provider to have the phones locked to their company. That's why the US providers haven't migrated to the defacto international standard GSM. They don't want people buying their subsidized phone, and then jumping ship

      • Re:Yeah right. (Score:5, Interesting)

        by buchanmilne (258619) on Friday November 12, 2010 @07:58AM (#34205662) Homepage

        It would be interesting if the cell phone manufacturers offered a swappable, standardized radio module that would pop in and out like the battery.

        It would be much more interesting, and much less expensive, pose no unresolved technical challenges, if the shared-majority wireless operators in the US (Sprint, Verizon), would just use an existing swappable, standardised user identity module, like R-UIM [wikipedia.org] cards. However, they are too concerned with fighting each other to realise that their technology has already lost, due to not being viable in other countries (where R-UIM is a requirement, but all decent phones are made for Sprint and Verizon, almost exclusively without R-UIM support). Not separating the number from the phone makes it too much of a hassle for users to switch phones, sell used phones, travel without roaming etc. (and of course, switching networks, which is what they are actually after, but damaging the whole CDMA market in the process), which are all trivially possible with GSM.

        Maybe they could allow roaming to more than just a handful [vzw.com] of international CDMA operators [sprint.com]. For example, there are multiple CDMA operators in many African countries, (including some that have tens of thousands of US citizens working in them), but not one is supported for roaming by Verizon or Sprint. Verizon seems to have more limited roaming than the cheapest crappiest GSM operators, and Sprint mostly provides roaming via GSM operators (so, if you travel, you already need a dual-tech phone, or two phones, why not just use GSM all the time?).

        Huawei (who makes a lot of CDMA-based gear, both telco-side and handsets, mostly for China Telecom I guess) has a nice article [huawei.com] covering the issues with CDMA roaming. Most of them are due to "American mindset" that is inherent in CDMA and CDMA deployments. Of course, Huawei is punting their solutions to these problems, but waiting for all CDMA operators to refresh their kit will make you old.

        Also, maybe if CDMA operators had consistent international dialing/number representation formats (like the +XX convention used by all GSM operators), users would figure out how to actually make international calls via CDMA. But, who needs numbers that don't start with a "1" anyway ...

        That way you could buy an expensive smartphone, and leverage that investment by just picking up a new radio module to move to a new network.

        At the moment, 52% of US subscribers can't even move between operators that use the *same* baseband modules (vs less than 15% worldwide). Maybe you should try and solve that problem first.

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by hazydave (96747)

        And in fact. some phones are built using just such a module. Sure, they're proprietary, and the phone itself needs specific software to support it.

        This would work.. but it's not the whole story. You could add the module to your phone, sign up with a provider, and then hit the net via WiFi. You would need at least OS-specific, if not device-specific, new code to support the add-in module. And of course, for GSM phones, you need a place to put the SIM.

        The harder actual problem is antennas. That's the frequenc

    • When the dominant model is to buy the phone with the plan, why should the networks pay extra for the millions of phones they ship with plans when the only benefit is to make it easier for the customer to switch to a competitor? Better for them to ship a cheap phone that can't use all the competitors' services.

      • Re:Why should they? (Score:5, Informative)

        by turbidostato (878842) on Thursday November 11, 2010 @09:55PM (#34203498)

        "When the dominant model is to buy the phone with the plan"

        Have you thought that it might be the case that that's the dominant model because that's all the telcos offer?

        Nobody is telling that telcos should gift away expensive smartphones but that you should be able to choose between a locked subsidized mobile with a data plan *or* a cheaper data plan without the mobile.

        • by h4rr4r (612664)

          T-mobile has a plan like that.

          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by Wonko the Sane (25252) *

            That's the plan I use and it's pretty awesome. I live in the Dallas area so I don't need to worry about their coverage problems and get HSPA+ without paying extra.

            If you live in an area where their coverage is good it's hard to beat T-Mobile on price.

        • Re:Why should they? (Score:5, Interesting)

          by spisska (796395) on Friday November 12, 2010 @01:03AM (#34204330)

          There's a bit more to it than that. If you travel in Europe for business, you're going to be visiting different countries. They're all on the same GSM standard, but roaming and out-of-network rates have traditionally been extortionate.

          When I lived there in the late '90s, early '00s, I knew plenty of people who carried multiple phones -- one with their primary number, another with their 'other network' number, and sometimes a third that they could swap pay-as-you-go cards into when travelling.

          When I lived in Slovakia there were two carriers, one owned by Orange the other by DT (later T-Mobile). All outgoing calls were metered. Calls in-network were reasonable but out of network -- i.e. from Slovak T-Mobile to Slovak Orange, cost something like five times as much. Calls elsewhere in the EU could approach 20 times as much.

          The carriers didn't want to sell unlocked phones, but that's what people demanded. Generally you couldn't buy an unlocked phone from a carrier, but if you already had one, they were happy to sell you a SIM.

          Everybody age 16 to 25 either could unlock a phone themselves or knew someone who could. Everyone knew someone that age. Also, most people who wanted one bought an unlocked phone from sources other than the carriers.

          Plus, it was much more common for people to buy the phone and use a pay-as-you-go service rather than get a subsidized phone as part of a fixed contract.

          The carriers wanted a long-term plan system like exists here but the market wasn't interested, for many reasons including those mentioned above.

          But if it cost a US user 20x as much to call someone in another state, things might have worked out differently.

    • Re:Yeah right. (Score:5, Informative)

      by MoonBuggy (611105) on Thursday November 11, 2010 @09:57PM (#34203510) Journal

      I know it's against Slashdot tradition, but I'd recommend that you RTFA. The summary gave me the same impression - that it would be some corporate fluff piece about how it's a good thing that the networks are screwing you - but the article itself is actually a very well reasoned technical explanation of the various bits of spectrum (and the the protocols running on them) in use today and in the near future, and how these often interfere with interoperability.

      • Re:Yeah right. (Score:5, Interesting)

        by dgatwood (11270) on Thursday November 11, 2010 @10:25PM (#34203692) Journal

        Except that these barriers are all really nothing more than a chicken-and-egg problem. Nobody builds a phone that can do all the HSDPA bands, but that's not because it's hard. The only customers who care about the 1700 MHz band are in the U.S. and Canada on carriers that don't sell unlocked phones, and there are no laws requiring unlocking. As a result, those customers don't expect to be able to move from one carrier to another without unlocking. As a result, the handset manufacturers don't need to build phones that allow this. As a result, the chipset vendors largely haven't bothered to design the chips to make this possible.

        If you can build a 5-band handset, a 6-band handset is really only incrementally harder. Even a 12-band handset is only incrementally harder when you factor in electronically tunable antennas into the mix.

        • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

          by mysidia (191772)

          carriers that don't sell unlocked phones

          The carriers are missing out on the opportunity to sell an "unlocking service", or phones that can hold multiple SIM cards and be enabled for additional carriers, with an "unlocking ticket" purchased from the primary provider, as long as their subscription with the locked provider is still active

    • Re:Yeah right. (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Cimexus (1355033) on Thursday November 11, 2010 @10:02PM (#34203546)

      Agreed. Using the technology as an excuse completely sidesteps the real issue here.

      Especially the 'differing frequencies' argument - haha wtf? Every GSM phone under the sun these days is at least tri-band and generally quad-band, which means it will work on almost any GSM network in the world. Differing frequencies is NOT a barrier to unlocked phones. Hell, I'm a dual Australian and US citizen and spend a lot of time in both countries, and I use my iPhone 4 (GSM quadband) in both countries without problems. It's an Australian-market iPhone 4 which means it's unlocked from the factory (or more accurately, was never locked in the first place). I have a Vodafone AU SIM in it and it roams quite happily in the US on either AT&T or T-Mobile (although T-Mobile is EDGE only for data due to them using a weird uplink frequency for UMTS/HSDPA ... EDGE is still fast enough for most things though)

      The only 'unique' thing about the US market, technology wise, is that the big carriers are split between GSM (AT&T, T-Mobile) and CDMA (Sprint, Verizon). So if you had an unlocked phone of either variety in the US, your choices would be restricted more than they would be in other markets. But there would still be ~some~ choice. And the technology itself doesn't preclude unlocked phones (which you CAN get in the US, e.g. via Newegg ... it's just that the carriers themselves don't usually offer unlocked phones in their stores, and won't offer you a plan that doesn't include the handset repayments component - T-Mobile excepted).

      So basically, yeah, the US market has come to accept 'cheap upfront phone then pay it off over a 24 month contract' business model as the norm, whereas in other countries, it's usually only an 'option' rather than the norm. But the carriers could offer SIM-only/Bring Your Own Phone plans any time they wanted. It's not a technology issue - it's an issue of the phone companies liking the current model (since it gives them more predictable income when they can tie customers in for two years at a time), and the average consumer not really knowing that there are alternatives.

    • by Guy Harris (3803)

      Technology and frequency differences? You've got to be shitting me.

      No, there really are, for better or worse, differences in the frequencies used and in the over-the-air protocols used. That doesn't mean that it'd necessarily be impossible to build a phone that could support all of them (perhaps at a higher cost), but perhaps the operators (and I agree with your characterization of them) would have no incentive to offer phones of that sort, so that might be part of the reason.

    • by catbutt (469582)
      So why aren't they greedy in Europe? I have a hard itme beleiving that human nature is different in Europe than the US.

      More likely, it is a legislation issue. Corporations tend to do what is best for their bottom line (sometimes that may include appearing to be non-greedy, but I digress....). It's up to the lawmakers to keep them in line on stuff like this.
    • Re:Yeah right. (Score:5, Insightful)

      by nine-times (778537) <nine.times@gmail.com> on Friday November 12, 2010 @12:00AM (#34204080) Homepage

      I think you're misunderstanding the idea here. The point is, even if you are willing to shell out the extra money to get an unsubsidized unlocked phone, you're generally still stuck on a given carrier anyway. I can't just take my AT&T phone and hook up to Verizon's or Sprint's network because their networks are different technologies.

      Even switching to T-Mobile, which should be possible because both AT&T and T-Mobile are GSM, doesn't really work because AT&T and T-Mobile use different frequencies for 3G. For example, if you bought a Nexus One, you would have had to have chosen whether you wanted the T-Mobile version or AT&T version, and there was never the option of using the Nexus One on Verizon. It wasn't because the Nexus One was locked.

      That doesn't mean the carriers aren't greedy assholes. It means that getting the phones to be unlocked doesn't really solve the problem.

      • Re:Yeah right. (Score:5, Insightful)

        by gandhi_2 (1108023) on Friday November 12, 2010 @12:10AM (#34204128) Homepage

        Imagine... a radio system that is capable of receiving and transmitting on one of several frequencies. And switching between frequencies on command.

        What a wonder future that would be!

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        I think you're misunderstanding the idea here. The point is, even if you are willing to shell out the extra money to get an unsubsidized unlocked phone, you're generally still stuck on a given carrier anyway. I can't just take my AT&T phone and hook up to Verizon's or Sprint's network because their networks are different technologies.

        The different technologies are an issue that can't be sidestepped, at least, not without phone manufacturers going to the effort of making a phone with multiple communications technologies.. But, can you easily move between verizon's network and sprint's? I'm a UK resident who visits the US frequently, and from everything I've heard and seen Verizon at the very least aren't too happy about activating other people's phones on their network, even if you do have an unlocked phone with a valid serial number. Is

  • by Mean Variance (913229) <mean.variance@gmail.com> on Thursday November 11, 2010 @09:14PM (#34203242)

    I only use unlocked phones and prepaid plans, T-Mobile, PagePlus mostly. It can be done. There are plenty of unlocked phones available on NewEgg, Dell, Amazon, and Craigslist.

    • by Potor (658520) <farker1@g m a i l . c om> on Thursday November 11, 2010 @09:20PM (#34203284) Journal

      Indeed. I use an unlocked tri-band GSM phone about half the year in Europe, and the same phone about half the year in the States. Also T-Mobile in the States, and strictly prepaid on either continent.

      Could not be simpler. I tape the SIM card not being used on the back of my passport.

      • by cptdondo (59460)

        T-Mobile will even unlock your phone for you. Over the last few years, I've had about a half-dozen t-mobile phones unlocked.

        We use the same phones in the US that we do in Europe. Japan is the holdout; you have to have a local phone. AFAIK, there is no common phone that will in both US and Japan just by swapping a SIM card.

        • by Cimexus (1355033) on Thursday November 11, 2010 @10:16PM (#34203638)

          Yeah Japan is even worse than the US in that regard - although SoftBank runs a GSM network so theoretically an unlocked quadband GSM phone (like the iPhone 4) should work in both the US and Japan with just a SIM card change.

          I say 'theoretically' though because although there's no ~technical~ reason why this can't work, it won't work in practise since they won't let the phone actually connect to the network unless its a recognised IMEI from a contracted phone that they already sold you ;)

          • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

            by Daengbo (523424)

            IMEIs are evil. The Thai carriers tried to use them to lock down phones a few years ago. Luckily,Thais are exceptionally good at getting around technological roadblocks,then sticking up shops on every corner to help the less tech-savvy get involved.. ;)

        • by Microlith (54737) on Thursday November 11, 2010 @10:40PM (#34203774)

          Japan is the holdout; you have to have a local phone. AFAIK, there is no common phone that will in both US and Japan just by swapping a SIM card.

          Not on 3G, but if your phone supports the European 3G bands it'll work fine in Japan. My N900 served me quite well while I was over there in August on NTT DoCoMo's FOMA 3.5G network, even all the way out in Tochigi prefecture.

          Of course, I only get 2.5G in the US on AT&T, but them's the breaks when you buy what you want rather than what you're offered.

          • by Cimexus (1355033)

            Oh yeah, a 3GSM (UMTS/HSDPA) phone will WORK in Japan (as you say, your N900 worked fine). But I assume you were roaming and still using your home carrier's SIM.

            I think what the GP was talking about is that in Japan, they won't sell a foreigner a local SIM card. In fact they won't even sell a Japanese person a SIM card. The only way you can get a local service there is to buy a local phone locked to the network (and for that you have to be a citizen or permanent resident).

            • by Microlith (54737)

              I assume you were roaming and still using your home carrier's SIM.

              Goodness no, not at the rates they were charging ($2/min, $20/mbyte.) I was using a sim from a company called b-Mobile, who sell data only and data+voice SIMs that give you unlimited service for a specified time period (albeit with rate caps.) You can pick them up at stores and order them online. You are right that they won't sell directly to foreigners (that is, those who aren't in Japan permanently,) I had to go through a proxy service to b

    • by h4rr4r (612664) on Thursday November 11, 2010 @09:44PM (#34203432)

      It seems PagePlus only offers 50MB of data, so forget about using your phone as GPS device or doing anything data related while not at home/work.

    • Any tips for how to get PagePlus to port a random Verizon phone? I have an LG nv2 which is just perfect for my use cases. I don't care about the cost of their phones but they don't sell a phone I want to use. Mine was bought from some random reseller on eBay with a clear ESN.

  • by Kenja (541830) on Thursday November 11, 2010 @09:20PM (#34203276)
    Most of the phones I've ever owned have been unlocked, purchased direct from Nokia. Never had any issues with them "not working" with any carrier I could purchases a SIM card from.
    • Most of the phones I've ever owned have been unlocked, purchased direct from Nokia.

      For one thing, only T-Mobile has a discount for bringing your own unlocked phone rather than taking one of the subsidized phones. AT&T has no counterpart to T-Mobile's "Even More Plus" plans [t-mobile.com] that knock $10/mo off voice or $20/mo off voice+data for purchasing the handset and SIM separately. But other Slashdot users appear to be of the opinion that T-Mobile has the worst coverage among the big four. For another, before I buy an N900 phone from Nokia, I want to know whether I will like it so that I'm not out $80 for return shipping and restocking fees for a phone that I turn out not to like.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Microlith (54737)

        But other Slashdot users appear to be of the opinion that T-Mobile has the worst coverage among the big four.

        They do. For as many places as they're in, their coverage tends to be rather iffy if you get out of the major metro areas.

        For another, before I buy an N900 phone from Nokia, I want to know whether I will like it so that I'm not out $80 for return shipping and restocking fees for a phone that I turn out not to like.

        Totally depends on what you're after. It's a so-so phone, but a pocket computer like no

        • by tepples (727027)

          Totally depends on what you're after. It's a so-so phone, but a pocket computer like none-other.

          I'm not interested in a phone as much as a pocket computer. The problem is that I'm not a fan of paying upwards of $50 per month for phone service when I currently pay $5 per month to Virgin Mobile USA because I use fewer than 40 voice minutes per month, mostly to arrange a ride to or from somewhere. I'd even be satisfied with a Wi-Fi-only device, but chains like Sears and Best Buy don't have the Samsung Galaxy Player 50 or Archos 43 yet.

      • by fermion (181285)
        I would agree that the business model is why unlocked phones are not popular. I will pay the same monthly tarrifs for an unlocked phone as for a locked phone. I can use my locked phone anywhere in the continental US for no additional charge. I can get a pay-as-you go phone for next to nothing, and only pay for the minutes I use.

        For the average US resident that has little reason to use their phone outside the US, the only reason to have an unlocked phone is simply to say one has an unlokced phone. For

        • by Cimexus (1355033)

          The point of an unlocked phone is not really international travel. It is being able to switch providers quickly and easily so that you can get a better plan. Let's say you are on carrier A. Six months down the road, carrier B comes along with a plan that kicks carrier A's plan's ass.

          If your phone is unlocked/uncontracted, you can just go to carrier B's store, sign up and pop carrier B's SIM card in and off you go. Call carrier A to cancel your account with them.

          Now as you say, in the US, this doesn't happen

      • by melikamp (631205)

        It's nice. [1] [melikamp.com] [2] [melikamp.com] [3] [melikamp.com] [4] [melikamp.com] [5] [melikamp.com] [6] [melikamp.com]

      • by dara (119068)

        $20 a month discount is almost $500 over two years. A Nokia N8 is $550 at Newegg.com, but I think one can do a bit better. Most good phones cost over $100 on a subsidized plan. So I think the case can be made for consumer appeal right now - regardless of whether you can change carriers or not. What I want my government to do is its job - foster competition by mandating that all US carriers have to offer non-subsidized plans with significant discounts to allow manufacturers to make phones and market them

    • You can't even purchase a SIM card from half the major (nationwide) providers.
    • by Guy Harris (3803)

      Most of the phones I've ever wned have been unlocked, purchased direct from Nokia. Never had any issues with them "not working" with any carrier I could purchases a SIM card from.

      So you have, for example, bought a Nokia phone, gotten a SIM card from AT&T, used it on the AT&T network and then, later, canceled your AT&T service, got whatever the equivalent of a SIM card is called on a cdmaOne/CDMA2000 network (RUIM, OMH, whatever) from Verizon, plugged it into the phone, and used it on Verizon?

      If not, then "They work for me..." amounts to "they work for some people, but not others", so it's not a general refutation. RTFA.

  • The phone companies(at least in Germany) have sort of found away around having to deal with people with unlocked phones moving from provider to provider, namely it's impossible to find reasonably priced data plans without signing a 2 year contract. The only data plans you could get were per-day plans at a cost of 5 euros a day. If you just use your phone to check your email you are looking at 150 euros a month, 2.5x the usual Telekom unlimited data plan(without even factoring in the free voice minutes you
  • Uh... (Score:3, Informative)

    by oldhack (1037484) on Thursday November 11, 2010 @09:26PM (#34203314)

    My 4-band Nokia GSM phone worked fine with AT&T and T-Mobile.

    Well, I basically just make voice calls, so maybe that's the issue...

  • Works for me (Score:3, Informative)

    by Iphtashu Fitz (263795) on Thursday November 11, 2010 @09:28PM (#34203324)

    I used to have a Motorola quad-band GSM phone on AT&T. I unlocked it so I could bring it to Australia and New Zealand when I went there a few years ago. Worked absolutely fine for me. I still keep the phone handy for if/when I travel abroad in the future.

    • by vlueboy (1799360)

      With unlocked phones, you can break into a country's market, but you couldn't take their tech out back to the US.

      The US breaking world-wide standards reminds me that Skype charges no extras per USA-bound calls (everyone can do that one for free!) The issue is when you want a two-way platform --fees apply for those calls you want to return.

  • "analyst"? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by iamagloworm (816661) on Thursday November 11, 2010 @09:28PM (#34203326)
    he has analysed nothing. how much money these "analysts" are paid for stating the bleeding obvious is beyond me. this should be under the no-shit-sherlock dept.
  • by jra (5600)

    I dunno; with the 2 clauses Google got the FCC to wire into the license terms, I had high hopes for LTE... Any app, any device; you can go far with that...

  • They don't "not work" because of "technology and frequency differences,", they have trouble because the oligopoly of telecom providers has worked hard to actively prevent unlocked phones from being marketable.

  • Spectrum issue (Score:5, Informative)

    by thogard (43403) on Thursday November 11, 2010 @09:33PM (#34203350) Homepage

    NATO split up the spectrum after WWII so that European military radios were on the US civilian frequencies and vice versa. The reason was so the US military could take its radios into Europe and use their default channels and not conflict with the allied military radios that were already there.

  • Asia has over 850 million mobile subscribers this year, mind you that's more than the living human population of the US and Europe combined! Asia mobile subscriber growth rates far exceed and are predicted to continue to exceed the US and Europe for the next 5 years, continuing to out pace both those markets. Asia is like Europe, in that you buy the phone and the service separately, they are not tied together (phones are not locked). Now why did the author not mention Asia?
    • by Microlith (54737)

      Because "Asia" is a diverse region, not a singular country. What you say absolutely does not apply in Japan or Korea, for instance, where virtually every phone is sold on contract and locked to the carrier. It's possible to buy service without any phone, but they look down on it or, as in Korea's case, it's virtually impossible due to laws.

  • For USA cellular phone networks, It's all about the money. Period!

  • by PsychicX (866028) on Thursday November 11, 2010 @10:06PM (#34203574)
    It's popular to talk about why 'unlocked' phones, but I would wager that the vast majority of unlocked phone buyers do not care that the phone is unlocked. It's irrelevant. We're not planning to switch networks. It's the contract that is the problem. Locked phones are fine as long as they're off contract. And off contract is exactly where cell companies don't want their customers to be.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Belial6 (794905)
      Funny, one of the reasons I stick with T-Mobile is because they don't force me to. Month-to-month, good 3g speeds, unlimited internet, unlocked phone, and they give me a discount to bring my own phone.

      Instead of hiding the cost of the phone in the service plan, they just charge you for the plan, and give you a 22 month interest free loan on the phone. For people that want a new phone on the 2 year schedule, there is no difference. For those that want to upgrade early, they can pay off the old phone an
  • by Constantin (765902) on Thursday November 11, 2010 @10:42PM (#34203782)

    The main point of the article should have been that the EU created a competitive landscape by restricting competitors to interoperability standards that do not exist in the USA - i.e. allowing customers to go from carrier to carrier without the need for a new phone. Here in the US, you are automatically subsidizing a new phone when you sign up for service with any major wireless company - and if you don't use the subsidy by buying a new phone every two years, then you're leaving money on the table. Yes, a waste, but that's what evolved over here vs. the general EU model of the customer providing the phone and the carrier supplying the SIM (though subsidized plans exist).

    Me, I'd prefer the ability to switch carriers and not to have this hidden subsidy. If the phone works and you're happy with it, why quasi-require the owner to chuck it for a new model? Just more e-waste with no tangible benefit except for those that like to further line the pockets of wireless carriers through the use of additional (previously unreachable) services. I also like that the EU mandates that the caller to the cell pays for the call. Seriously cuts down spam calls - because calls to cell phones are 5x more expensive than landline calls. An additional benefit is the possibility of giving a phone to your kid and being able to call them at will - but they cannot make calls unless they refill the SIM bank account.

    Anyhow, IIRC, the iPhone 4 has two external antennas that are nominally tuned to certain frequencies but which through some electronic happiness inside can actually cover a wider variety of frequencies than the one that they are 'naturally' resonant on. So your signal quality on a 700MHz band using a nominal 850MHz antenna may not be great, but it may still work. The current iPhone 4 is capable of handling signals ranging from 850MHz-2.4GHz... so the current design limitations may be just that, limits by design to lock folk into AT&T in the US market. Then again, I don't know enough about all the technologies, compatibility issues, etc. to say for sure that it can be done.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by jimicus (737525)

      Can you guys go from carrier to carrier and keep your number? Easy in the EU (though I don't think you can cross national borders and do that).

  • nonsense (Score:4, Insightful)

    by evilviper (135110) on Thursday November 11, 2010 @11:11PM (#34203920) Journal

    The summary is idiotic. The article isn't explaining why unlocked phones can't work in the US. It's merely stating the obvious facts that unlocking an AT&T phone wont work out that well for you right now...

    The big problem? The EU has one standard, while the US has two. The EU standard uses 3 frequencies, while each US standard uses four. Big deal. A trivial technical issue requiring a universal phone to cost 5$ more. They don't exist for one simple reason... the carriers in the US are allowed to lock you in, and its more profitable for them to do so.

    That's not to say it matters. Cell companies do such a good job advertising, that people will complain endlessly about their phone bill, but never switch to some other service with unlimited calling/data for half the price. Even with unlocked phones, their behavor wont magically change.

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