What Is an Unlocked iPhone?

An unlocked iPhone is a phone that is purchased without a service contract to a major cell phone service provider. Most major cell phone service providers offer phones at well below market value. They offset this cost by having the client commit to a two-year cell phone service contact. So, for instance, someone who wants to buy an iPhone through a notable cell phone service provider pays significantly less for the phone upfront, but only if they commit to a two-year service contract with that service provider. Their iPhone will be specified for use with that service provider from that point on. The phone is then considered “locked” to that provider.

Those who want to purchase an unlocked iPhone will pay more in order to purchase an iPhone that is not locked to a service provider. This unlocked phone can be used with different service providers, as long as the user has a service plan that accommodates the phone, data, and text demands of the iPhone itself. Buyers should keep in mind that not all major service providers offer plans that make full use of all iPhone capabilities, so purchasing an unlocked iPhone and taking it to just any cell phone provider could mean limited service and functionality. Buyers should be sure to check with their respective service provider or research online to check which providers can offer support for their unlocked iPhone.

Unlocked iPhone: Advantages and Limitations

There is a notable debate regarding unlocked iPhones. Apple makes them available for sale, so there is obviously a market for people who want to buy unlocked iPhones for the benefits they offer, but there are also many critics who cite a list of reasons why purchasing an unlocked iPhone may not be a good idea. The following table lists the advantages and limitations. It will help buyers decide whether to buy an unlocked iPhone or go with a locked phone and service contract.

Advantages

Limitations

No Commitment: Some buyers appreciate the ability to switch carriers at any time, stop paying for their phone at a moments notice, and just generally not have to sign multi-year contracts to own the iPhone. An unlocked iPhone provides this type of freedom. Higher Price: Cell phone carriers subsidize the purchase price of iPhones for their contract customers. An iPhone on a contract (locked phone) is just a few hundred dollars compared to upwards of $600 for an unlocked phone. Critics of unlocked iPhones often question whether the extra money spent on unlocked iPhones (which can be in the hundreds of dollars) is worth it.
Mobility: Anyone who has tried to use their American cell phone overseas knows that the international roaming charges are severe. For international business travelers who travel frequently and use their phone for email, find that communicating while abroad on a business trip can get very expensive. An unlocked phone means a user can purchase a short term SIM card from a provider overseas and not pay any of the international roaming rates. Limited Carriers: There are still only a couple of major cell phone providers that give users full service and support for their unlocked iPhones. Options are limited for unlocked iPhone users. Some critics say that because of this, the discount a service provider offers is worth the full functionality that carriers offer their contract iPhone customers.

Unlocked iPhones are generally used by people with specific needs and the budget to accommodate them. For those that find an unlocked iPhone useful for what they need their iPhone to do, spending the extra money can be well worth the functionality, mobility, and freedom it gives them. However, they should remember that an unlocked iPhone is not for everyone. The upfront costs can be substantial, but for highly mobile users who hate to feel tied down, it is the perfect choice.

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