While iPhone users in the U.S. may still be tied to AT&T for their cellular service, Apple will sell the iPhone 3GS and iPhone 4 unlocked and SIM-free in several countries, including Canada and the U.K.
According to an FAQ published on Apple’s Canadian and British Websites, customers in those countries—as well as in France and Germany—will be able to buy an iPhone 4 handset for full price but without any commitment or carrier lock. This means that they will be free to choose any GSM carrier that uses frequencies compatible with the company’s phones without having to be subject to a long-term contract—and with the ability to swap carriers at any time without having to replace their devices.
U.S. iPhone users don’t have that option. While customers can pay $599 or $699 for an iPhone 4 without a long-term contract, they’ll still be locked to AT&T, making switching to a different provider—for example in order to avoid roaming charges during a foreign trip—impossible.
Because these unlocked phones don’t come with a SIM card, customers who do not already own a GSM phone or who wish to change providers will have to obtain a new SIM module from their carrie. That could mean an additional charge in some countries. (For example, SIM cards in Canada can cost as much as $25.) This issue will particularly affect iPhone 4 users, since that device uses a microSIM format that is, as yet, rather uncommon.
Pricing in the U.K. starts at £419 for a SIM-free iPhone 3GS 8GB, with iPhone 4 models going for £499 and £599 for the 16GB and 32GB versions respectively. In Canada, the lone iPhone 3GS model costs $549, while the company has not yet announced pricing (or availability beyond the fact that the phone will be introduced sometimes in July) for the newer models.