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Virgin Mobile's iPhone's GSM Radio is SIM Locked - Which Makes No Sense

According to an internal document leaked by Inside Sprint Now, Virgin Mobile's iPhone 4S will have a locked international SIM slot. Which means the phone will only work in the US. Which is a pretty lousy way to treat customers spending $649 for what's supposed to be a "World Phone".

The version of the iPhone 4S sold by US CDMA networks including Sprint and Verizon has a dual mode radio that supports both CDMA and GSM networks. That lets you use the phone outside North America where CDMA is mostly non-existent.

Both Sprint and Verizon's iPhone 4S's come with a roaming SIM that lets the phone work almost anywhere in the world. That's convenient but it's also insanely expensive. Sprint charges anywhere 59¢/minute for calls in Canada to $2.49 in India. Data roaming is equally overpriced; $19.46/MB in India and $2/MB in Canada.

Experienced international travelers generally use an unlocked phone and either buy a local prepaid SIM in each country they visit or use a global travel SIM from companies like Tru or Maxroam. Sprint and Verizon's iPhones do come SIM locked, but both operators will unlock their iPhone's GSM side for postpaid customers.

Given that Virgin Mobile's 16 GB iPhone 4S costs the same $649 as buying an unlocked one directly from Apple, there's been some speculation that the Virgin Mobile iPhone would be sold with an unlocked SIM slot. However, Inside Sprint Now has published a Q&A document intended for Virgin Mobile support personnel that states Virgin Mobile's iPhone 4S will have a locked international SIM slot.

"Q: Is the International SIM locked or unlocked for Virgin Mobile iPhone 4S customers? iPhone sold by Virgin Mobile will be locked to their network and will not be able to be used when located outside the US"

That "...will not be able to be used when located outside the US" statement seems to indicate that Virgin isn't going to be including a roaming SIM and won't be unlocking the iPhone's GSM functionality either. I really have to wonder why. If the iPhones where being sold a subsidized price, Virgin would want to lock them to discourage people from buying them for profitable resale abroad. But as they are being sold at full price there's no incentive to buy a Virgin iPhone except to use it on the Virgin network. By not offering to unlock iPhone's, Virgin is forcing it's users to purchase a second phone for international use, and for no good reason that I can see.

64 comments:

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  1. And the moral of the story is, do not go with Virgin, or any CDMA network. Try AT&T or T-MO MVNO's and use whatever you want. However if you are stupid enough and insist in using Virgin, you have to do what they tell you. Period.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. The story is wrong. VM will gladly unlock your iPhone if you ask them. No restrictions, no fees, no issues. It's on their support site, google it.

      Delete
    2. The Virgin Mobile name is franchised to various operators around the world. Some will unlock phones, including iPhones. Virgin Mobile USA won't. Be sure you are on the US Virgin Mobile site www.virginmobileusa.com

      Try googling "iphone SIM unlock site:virginmobileusa.com" to restrict the search to the US site

      Delete
    3. That is why you buy the phone unlocked from apple, then put it on virgin mobile. How stupid do you have to be to not see that.. Branson wanted us all to be part of the new collective.. Even if they lose money they will end up with everyone using there service.. Prices are expected to go down on December 24 according to branson. 30$ plans will offer unlimited everything. The sim slot is locked per there deal with apple. Verizon and AT&T we arguing it as a contract violation. Because they believe virgin will start selling iPhones at prices bellow what they even pay for them.

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    4. You cannot use an unlocked iPhone bought from apple on virgin mobile as they are a CDMA network.

      Delete
  2. I disagree to your mention of not making sense for VM to lock the GSM mode.
    When you're subscribing to Virgin Mobile, you (should) know in advance that your Virgin phone can be used only within the Sprint native service area, which is USA/Puerto Rico/US Virgin Islands.
    VM does not even have the international roaming rate on its tarif.
    VM's other phones do not work outside USA, either.
    And, I remember a few years ago when VM sold the Blackberry, it completely covered its SIM slot with the metal lid so that no one could insert a SIM there.

    So, it make sense for VM to SIM-lock the GSM mode. It does not make sense to sell a SIM-locked iphone at the full retail price.

    Now, I would like to know if the Virgin's iPhone 4S can be unlocked with a Gevey Ultra S adapter for CDMA because only the SIM-slot is carrier-locked, but not the GSM/W-CDMA radio.

    And, if there's any SIM-unlock policy from VM after, say, two years on the contract.

    ReplyDelete
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    1. The Gevey SIM is for unlocking the GSM side. The CDMA side isn't locked.

      To activate a CDMA phone on another carrier that carrier has to add the phone's ESN to the carrier's database and the phone has to be manually programmed.

      Most carriers won't add other carrier's phones to their database and manually programing iPhones is complicated and requires jailbreaking

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  3. All people should know that Virgin Mobile is a prepaid/pay as you go network powered by Sprint. First question I would ask is why would anyone use a prepaid phone outside this country knowing international rates is going to cost you a fortune even if it is unlocked. Second is who should really give a rat's *** if the prepaid iPhone 4S or iPhone 4 is sim locked. You are buying a prepaid iPhone. What the hell do you need a sim card for.

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    1. Lots of people travel internationally and need to be able to use local prepaid SIMs.

      Those SIMs in the photo above are some of the ones I've bought abroad and used in an unlocked T-Mobile prepaid GSM phone. I'd prefer to use the same phone I use in the US, which the iPhone supports. Virgin has crippled that useful capability of the iPhone for no apparent reason.

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  4. Well apparently that is Virgin Mobile's choice to do so and really nothing that we can do about it.

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  5. they probably don't want you switch to other BYOP GSM carriers. this is a dealbreakers for me. There is no way i am paying full prize for a neutered iphone.

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    Replies
    1. That shouldn't be a problem. When Verizon and Sprint unlock iPhones, GSM only works outside the US. Virgin could do the same.

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    2. Oh wow, really? Are you sure? How do they lock a device so it can only work abroad on GSM? I thought GSM was a global standard? If it works abroad it should work here given the phone works accross multiple radio bands.
      Why would anyone buy a Verizon iPhone or Sprint if you ultimately don't get what the AT&T people get in terms of an unlocked device once you fulfill your contracted commitment?

      Delete
    3. It's not a true SIM lock. The radio software is programmed to not connect to any GSM network with a US Mobile Country Code (310 or 311).

      Delete
  6. It IS hilariously stupid of Virgin Mobile to do this given your other sources for iPhones, no doubt about it. Then again, if you could afford to have semi-regular travels outside American shores...yeah, you know where I'm going.

    You're still going to get a good device on a service that saves you money--just know that for THIS deal, you can't use it in other countries.

    Know before you buy.

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  7. As long as a company offers full disclosure before purchase (caveat emptor and all that rot) and does not change terms midstream they can do as they please within the law. However, this policy seems to be underhanded as seems to have been revealed in a leaked internal document. Shame on a company that attempts to keep a potential dealbreaker secret as they lose all credibility within the marketplace.

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  8. Yes, just criminal. I can't use my $1300 worth of iPhone when I travel to the UK, and when I switch to a different carrier, I have to throw my phones in a trash can. They ought to put this up front, instead of enticing you with the no-contract bait-and-switch. Sure, there's no contract, but if it makes your unsubsidized iPhone a brick when you cancel your contract, that seems dishonest at least and class-action-lawsuit at most.

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  9. What a shame. I was going to consider buying VM's iPhone, but now this lack of international GSM unlock is a deal breaker for me.

    While googling this I've come across VM's Australian support pages that state clearly 3 months of topups and after that they allow unlocking iPhones.

    Why is USA special?

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  10. According to VM's support site, in order to unlock iPhone, all you need to do is ask VM and they'll send you the instructions:

    http://virginmobile.custhelp.com/app/answers/detail/a_id/155/related/1/session/L2F2LzEvdGltZS8xMzQ0MDMyMzYzL3NpZC9sSlJyZk8ybA%3D%3D



    How do I unlock my Apple iPhone?

    We are only able to unlock an Apple iPhone purchased through Virgin Mobile.

    What's the Procedure?

    When we get your request we forward it to Apple to unlock your iPhone.
    This should be processed within 3 working days.
    You will be advised by SMS or email of a successful unlock.
    You will then need to perform a Full Restore of your iPhone with the latest version of iTunes.
    Once the phone has been restored, you can insert the new carrier SIM card and Sync it with iTunes.


    NOTE: Authorised Apple Carriers push the APN settings through iTunes so there would be no requirement to manually enter this information.

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  11. The page you linked to is for Virgin Mobile Australia. Virgin Mobile USA won't unlock your iPhone.

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  12. I am chatting with a Virgin specialist and this is what she has to say...
    "Yes, you can use a sim card on the phone. First, you buy our iPhone 4s, then if you go to an international location, the phone is unlock wherein you can use it with a sim card.
    You: ok......i just wanted to confirm that if I travel internationally, I would be able to insert a SIM (GSM network) and use the phone internationally during my travel......and once I was back in the US, I would use it on Virgin network.......
    You: so you are saying it is basically "locked" on the CDMA network of Virgin in the US but it is "unlocked" for the GSM network internationally.......
    Sarah: Yes, that is correct! You can use the phone outside of the country using a different technology ( GSM) and once you are back you can use your Virgin Mobile service which is on a CDMA network"

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Here's what the Virgin Mobile USA website says:

      "iPhone 4 and iPhone 4S sold by Virgin Mobile will be locked to our network and will not be able to be used when located outside the US."

      I think that CSR was just blowing smoke.

      Delete
    2. I'm outisde US and virgin mobile on iphone GSM is locked. I cant use it with local carriers.

      Delete
  13. If I join Virgin Mobile and buy a iPhone 4s and the use their prepaid plan for months and then if I decide to cancel, then Virgin ought to unlock the phone free of cost to release the customer from unnecessary obstacles, especially since the customer paid $ 650 to buy the iPhone at full retail. Anything less should be considered unethical if not illegal!

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  14. Can you use an unlocked Sprint phone on Virgin plan?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. CDMA phones aren't locked. They don't need to be because the operator has complete control over which phones it will activate.

      The only ways you can use a Sprint phone on Boost are:

      Boost CS can switch most older (pre-2010) Sprint phones except Android, WebOS and iPhones on to an existing, active Boost account. You may have to call many times before you get a rep that knows how to do this.

      There's also a way to hack a Sprint phone so that it appears to the system as a Boost phone that will activate. It's not easy, and may also be illegal.

      Delete
  15. If i buy a virgin mobile sim card from ebay will it work in my unlocked iphone 4

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    Replies
    1. No, Virgin Mobile USA is a CDMA operator so SIM cards aren't used.

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    2. So the iphone available from virgin usa doent have a sim card

      Delete
    3. The Virgin iPhone 4S has a SIM card but it's not used for connecting to the Virgin Mobile CDMA network.

      Delete
  16. So what would be the best network to put the unlocked iphone on And how do i get a sim card from them I read last night that straight talk would be the best. I had the iphone through Verizon

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Straight Talk works well with AT&T iPhones. For a Verizon iPhone you have two options.

      Use the Verizon iPhone on PagePlus. works well but officially not allowed see: Updated: iPhones On Verizon MVNO Page Plus "Could" Be Kicked Off at Anytime

      Use a Gevey SIM to unlock the iPhone and use it on Straight Talk or another AT&T MVNO. The Gevey SIM costs $40 and requires the iPhone to be jail broken. See this video for more about the Gevey option.

      Personally, I'd sell the Verizon iPhone and buy an AT&T one and use it on Straight Talk.

      Delete
  17. hello to all how do i know a gsm phone

    ReplyDelete
  18. I Recently bought an iPhone 4 on eBay will I be able to activate it on my virgin mobile account?

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  19. You can only use it on Virgin if it's a Virgin Mobile iPhone 4. Sprint, AT& or Verizon iPones won't work on Virgin.

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  20. Ok all of y'all need to shut up because on virgin mobile you either pay $30.00 a month for 300min and unlimited data and text (you need to have a credit card to pay $30.00 a month) with out one its $35.00. If you want to roam outside of the USA either go with AT&T or Verizon preferrably with AT&T because there faster in the United States than Verizon because the AT&T iPhone have HSPA plus if you want International go with straight talk from Walmart they have plans for 60 dollars for unlimited data unlimited text and unlimited talk internationally. Oh yeah Straight Talk is basically AT&T and T Mobile but you gotta remember 1 thing with prepaid plans with unlimited data you will get throttled in meaning your data speeds will be reduced

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. please no it is just unlimited calling internationally

      Delete
  21. I was just on the VM website and it showed that the iPhone 4S has the SIM CARD inserted (and you call when you receive the phone in the mail, to activate). Sooo, can I just buy the phone, remove the SIM, unlock it, and use it on a carrier like, T-MOBILE or Straight Talk?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Virgin Mobile USA won't unlock their iPhones. I don't know if a third party could unlock a Virgin iPhone 4S or not but even if they did the phone wouldn't work with US SIMS, unlocked Sprint iPhones only work with non-US SIMs.

      If you want to use an iPhone on Straight Talk or T-Mobile, I recommend an AT&T iPhone or a factory unlocked GSM iPhone.

      Delete
  22. hi Yeswap. ı bought 2 pcs VM ı phone 4 s in USA in Radio shack. when ı came back my country which is in turkey phone is not work my sim carrier. what can ı do for open sim lock. just ı use this phone like i pod. please help me. you can send me e-mail [email protected]

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. 1. Use like iPod. Get free VOIP app like Vonage or Bobsled to make and receive calls when on WiFi;
      2. Buy cellular router to give you mobile WiFi where you can not pick it up free; or
      3. Wait a little while until Beigephone in Houston, TX can fully flash your phones for $100 each to Verizon. Then use the SIM slot with a Turkey SIM card.

      Delete
  23. So where are we on this? I have a trip in Spain to go on, and I'm extremely dependent on my Virgin Mobile iPhone 4S. Is there a way to use it in Italy--jailbreak, SIM swap, anything?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Same boat as Fatih Acar in January. See above for advice on buying a paddle.

      Delete
    2. The Virgin Mobile iPhone 4S's are still SIM locked and I haven't heard of anyone unlocking one successfully. Your best bet is probably getting a separate unlocked GSM phone for international use.

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    3. ACRS in West Palm Beach might also be able to flash the 4S to Verizon. They are not specific 4S vs. 4 on the website, so call them.

      Delete
    4. It looks like ACRS is not flashing the 4s, only the 4.
      There is a SIM interposer for Virgin Mobile iPhone 4S on eBay. You have to jailbreak the phone, and it only works up to iOS 6.1.2.

      I think Dennis has the best idea. Buy an unlocked, $20 4 band Nokia for local calls, and pick up local sim cards in Spain and Italy. The battery will for days; it is hard to find a place to charge overseas when you are on the go. You can still use the iPhone. Buy an unlocked mobile router (#2 above) that supports the European bands. When you get to the airport over there, buy a data-only SIM. They sell them in Spain and Italy, and data is not expensive this way.

      Delete
  24. I cant find any solution sim lock virgin mobile ı phone 4S. if some body wants ı can sell just 350 dolar. if some body knows howw ı can open sim lock please help me...

    ReplyDelete
  25. An online GSM forum does mention about unlocking Virgin mobile USA iPhone4S using X-SIM. http://forum.gsmhosting.com/vbb/f758/iphone-4s-virgin-usa-imsi-need-help-1556922/
    Dennis, do have have any confirmation on successfully unlocking using X-SIM?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I haven't heard any reports of X-SIM working or not working with the Virgin iPhone 4S.

      In general SIM-interposers tend to be a pain with issues like data conection instability and iOS updates breaking the unlock for months at a time until the SIM-interposer vendor finds a new workaround.

      Delete
  26. Hello,
    It has been really helpful to read what you all said. so, in conclusion there is no possible way to factory unlock a VM iphone 4s and use it overseas unless you jailbreak which means give up apple warranty on your phone. So what I was thinking is keeping my iphone from VM as an ipod or a wedge for my door :( but how about buying and Iphone on straight talk USA and having it unlock to use it overseas, is it possible to do that? thanks in advance

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Virgin Mobile iPhones are very locked down. No one seems to be able to unlock them.
      Better choices include the Straight Talk iPhone 5 is unlocked for both US and international SIMs and AT&T iPhones which are relatively easy to unlock.There are many services that can unlock them for about $20.

      Delete
    2. Update. It looks like AT&T iPhone unlocks have gotten expensive lately. I'm seeing prices in the $80 - $120 range. No more $20 or less unlocks.

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    3. Dennis: My unlock source, Wireless Warehouse raised their price from $20 to $29 recently. They used to charge $5 if you ordered it through their AT&T unlock link, but now you have to get it under iPhone.
      http://www.shop.wirelezz.net/GSM-UNLOCKING_c9.htm

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    4. That's the best price I've seen today. Do they unlock phones for individuals at that price or only dealers?

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    5. That's the best price I've seen today. Do they unlock phones for individuals at that price or only dealers?

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    6. I bought the Straight Talk iPhone 5 and it is already unlocked on the GSM side. You can use it overseas per your question.

      Delete
    7. Dennis: Anybody can order this, just put it in the cart and pay. This is a factory unlock, so I just plug the phone into iTunes and Apple unlocks it. I have done several through them and it worked perfectly every time.

      Delete
    8. Dennis: Here is what is happening with AT&T unlocking prices.
      AT&T has cracked down.
      http://9to5mac.com/2013/11/14/apparent-block-on-mass-unlocking-of-att-iphones-hits-resale-industry/

      Delete
  27. I had my VM iphone unlocked at MBK in Bangkok. It works on True Network here but some of the automated functions like account balance and logging onto True network free WIFI in malls don't work. But I have unlimited calls and 3G data, here, for 700 Baht a month ($21). I'll put it back to VM when I go home. USA is a rip off. IT cases, adaptors, power banks and everything else is dirt cheap, as it should be and the Thais have things you can't even find in a Radio Shack. The RS clerks ask me where I get this stuff.

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  28. stay away from virgin mobile people, it is a big mistake

    ReplyDelete
  29. wow, I have recently learned a lot about these phone companies, they paint the picture so nice just to trap people, sad but true indeed all this info has been very helpful for me thanks to Dennis Bournique I will be buying a factory unlock I phone form the apple store, I wont let these phone company get me they are ridiculous and they aren't straight forward neither loyal because there too worry about getting there money and trapping people.

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