Catching up on some news while en route to Singapore, I noticed an interesting news item about the recently released iPhone 5. It turns out that the model sold to Verizon customers is UNLOCKED, meaning you can use it with any network provider by removing and replacing the SIM card.
Normally unlocked phones cost hundreds of dollars more and are bought without a contract. It’s that promise to pay $80-100 a month that lets the carrier subsidize the phone’s purchase price. Unlocking the phone later costs a few hundred dollars as a fee to your network provider.
Now, you still have to sign a Verizon contract to get the new iPhone 5 starting at $199, but the fact that it comes unlocked as default without paying that extra fee is significant.
There are lots of ways to communicate when traveling internationally, but usually one of the cheapest is to rely entirely on WiFi for Twitter, iChat, and email, plus maybe a bit of Skype. The most expensive option is usually paying your carrier’s international roaming rates, even if you buy a fancy international phone and data package.
A good in between option is to buy a new SIM card in whatever country you visit with enough minutes and data for your stay. These usually are only $10-20 and are widely available because in most countries the contract model we use in the United States is less common. You can even save the SIM card for return visits. But you have to have an unlocked phone, which creates a significant upfront cost. Locked phones only allow you to use the SIM card from the contract carrier.
With an unlocked iPhone from Verizon, you can use your cheap, subsidized phone like normal in the U.S. and then just pop out the SIM card anytime you travel internationally. The rumors I’ve been reading online indicate that this is NOT a mistake. Verizon isn’t planning to “fix” this in the immediate future. But if you have doubts, it might pay to move quickly.