An Unlocked iPhone? I’d Travel Halfway Around the World for One

By  |  Saturday, September 27, 2008 at 6:32 pm

“iPhone 3G puchased at the Apple Online Store can be activated with any wireless carrier. Simply insert the SIM from your current phone into iPhone 3G and connect to iTunes 8 to complete activation.”

It’s been slightly melodramatic to say that reading those words left me giddy. I hate phone contracts and phones locked to a particular carrier–hate ’em, hate ’em, hate ’em, on both practical grounds and principle–and would much rather pay full price for a phone then get locked into a contract. If unlocked iPhone 3Gs had been available when I bought mine back on day one, I’d never have committed to a contract to get a price break. (Were I a civilian, I might not have bought an iPhone 3G at all until contract-free ones became available–AT&T is supposedly going to offer them at some point–but it’s impossible to write about personal technology today without one.)

The good news is that the unlocked iPhone is here. The bad news? It’s only really here if “here” is Hong Kong. The text I quoted above comes from the Hong Kong version of Apple’s online store, where locals can now buy the unlocked, contract-free version of the phone.

A 16GB one goes for $HK 6200–that’s $797.86 to you and me–which is only $100 or so shy of triple the $299 you’ll pay for the phone if you sign up for two years of AT&T service. But such is my hatred of contracts and locked phones that it still sounded tempting. Especially since I’m probably going to be visiting Beijing in November and might be visiting Hong Kong anyhow.

Then it dawned on me: I already have an iPhone, and don’t need another. And I’m already signed up with AT&T until July of 2010. The only benefit of a Hong Kong unlocked iPhone would be the possibility of popping in a prepaid SIM when I’m in another country and thereby avoiding AT&T roaming fees. Which would be nice–but not worth $800 on top of the $299 I’ve already invested in the iPhone I own.

I’ll still be pleased when AT&T starts selling its full-price, contract-free iPhone–and would be even more pleased if Apple were to sell an unlocked iPhone for use with any carrier. I’m not clear, in fact, why it doesn’t. Maybe it simply doesn’t see enough of a market, or the carriers it works with demanded that only locked phones be available. (If you’ve got hard facts or informed speculation, I’d love to hear it.)

Disclaimers and disclosures:

1) I’ve been an AT&T customer for five years now, and it’s been fine; I have no desire to switch carriers and may be with them a decade from now for all I know. (One of the nicest things about the company has been that it’s cheerfully unlocked some of the phones I’ve bought from it when I’ve called customer service and asked politely; it doesn’t do that for iPhone owners, though.) Like I say, it’s the principle of the thing as much as practicalities that I’m obsessing over.

2) While I like to get phones unlocked, I’ve always done so by asking the carrier; going to a back-alley unlocking service unnerves me. I’m not sure offhand if anyone anywhere is successfully unlocking iPhone 3Gs–this post is spawning an ad on my site for unlocked iPhones, but it seems to lead to a dead site–but I don’t think unlocking a locked iPhone will be worth the bother until it’s okay with Apple and AT&T.

3) A month ago, I went into a Verizon store to buy an EVDO adapter. (Yes, I’m a customer of both AT&T and Verizon–I wanted Verizon’s coverage when it came to my laptop.) I fully intended to pay full price and avoid a contract–but the salesguy successfully convinced me to sign a contract on the grounds that the penalty for cancelling the contract goes down each month and eventually reaches zero, allowing me to leave at any time and still save money on the hardware. I feel guilty admitting this, since I wimped out; we’ll see if I ever regret having done so.

I’m still excited about the notion of contractless, carrierless iPhones though. Here’s hoping that by the time a next-generation iPhone (4G?) becomes available, I can buy one in that form. Preferably without flying to Hong Kong…

[Shameless semi-related cross-promotion: Do you have an iPhone? If so, please take Technologizer’s iPhone Satisfaction Survey. It’ll take around fifteen minutes of your time, and we’ll use the aggregated data we collect to help determine just how happy iPhone users are with their phones. Thanks!]


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10 Comments For This Post

  1. buxie Says:

    so, here in Saudi Arabia we can buy unlocked iPhones. should i pick up a couple before returning to the USA? let me know and thanks!

  2. gt Says:

    Well, in Italy you can only buy unlocked iPhones. Ca. 550 euros (800 US$, IIRC).

  3. fdb Says:

    You can buy unlocked iPhones in Belgium too. In fact, that’s the only type you can buy here. The 8Gb version costs 525 euros (+/- 766 dollars)

  4. Aaron Farr Says:

    I live in Hong Kong. Is there a way I could help out?

  5. peejch87 Says:

    I live in the Philippines and i really want to have one (unlocked,of course, :)! any way you could help me out?

  6. mike Says:

    You can buy unlocked Iphone in Belgium, Belgian law prohibits the sale of a product tied a sole provider service contract.. I imagine that the Honk Kong and Saudi Arabia availability of iphones is due to similar legislation prohibiting Apple to lock customer in.

    However : the IPhone is on back order in Belgium.. On launch day, Apple only made 200 available nationwide, and people have to wait weeks to get one as Apple is trying NOT to sell them at nearly a 1000 US $ for the 16 GB … Not selling them, would get them in hot water with the EU and their economic administration and be liable for millions in fines .. ( EU prohibits Monopolies or attempts at making them )

    I love the Apple products but this attitude of demanding complete control and monopoly of their customers .. is really starting to be a pain… Greed.. we have seen what it has done to Wall street… Cannot wait for the GOOGLE phone….. may not be as pretty but it will rock! G3, Web, GPS, Media, apps by the thousands, integration, open source and NO contract locking you in… a much better deal…

  7. Chris Anderson Says:

    We have have the iPhone 3G 8GB,3G 16GB,4GB,8GB,16GB in stock for sale at affordable prices.

    iPhone 3G 8GB Cost…..US$400
    iPhone 3G 16GB Cost….US$450
    iPhone 4GB Cost……..US$250
    iPhone 8GB Cost……..US$300
    iPhone 16GB Cost…….US$350

    HTC Advantage X7510…..US$950
    HTC P3470……………US$500
    HTC Touch Cruise……..US$540
    HTC Dual…………….US$400
    HTC S730…………….US$410
    HTC P6500……………US$780
    HTC TyTN II………….US$440
    HTC Touch……………US$950
    HTC S630…………….US$360
    HTC S710…………….US$350
    HTC P3600i…………..US$460
    HTC Advantage X7500…..US$980
    HTC MTeor……………US$200
    HTC touch diamond…….US$550
    HTC Shift……………US$1,250

    Nokia N90……..US$200
    Nokia N91……..US$220
    Nokia N92……..US$230
    Nokia N93……..US$260
    Nokia N93i…….US$300
    Nokia N95……..US$350
    Nokia N70……..US$170
    Nokia N71……..US$180
    Nokia N73……..US$200
    Nokia N74……..US$230
    Nokia N76……..US$240
    Nokia N77……..US$260
    Nokia N80……..US$260

    They are Brand New/Unlocked to all networking Systems and would function with any network world wide,and also comes with all its Accessories and Manuals.

    Contact us Via:

  8. Akos Says:

    Does anyone know about the prices/phones Chris Anderson posted above?

  9. Bluewaters Says:

    I agree with the reasons you’ve indicated why Apple doesn’t sell unlocked iPhones in US.

    To reiterate, they may not have a market for it (remember iPhone sales started exploding after the $199 contract/subsidised price was first offered for a 3G).

    And the other, like you mention the carriers might not like the idea of selling a top of the line phone unlocked through their stores (which would encourage customers to easily switch away from them once the phone is in their hands!).

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