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Will an Unlocked iPhone Work With My Regional Carrier

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    For those who have chosen to buy cellular service from one of the many smaller regional cellular carriers usually do so to get lower rates or customer service that is better than the customer service the national cell carriers provide.  However better customer service or lower rates means sacrificing getting the phone you want.  Regional carriers having less buying power than the national carriers are unable to offer the newest smartphones right from the day they are released.  As many GSM cellular subscribers know, buy an unlocked phone pop in your SIM card and it becomes your phone regardless of which carrier the subscriber belongs to. 
    Switching a SIM card into an unlocked iPhone will give access to most features some such as visual voice mail will not be available, since carriers that do no sell iPhones would not support iPhone specific features. 
Carrier Compatibility
ACS Alaska Yes
Cellcom No CDMA Network
Cellular South No CDMA Network
Cincinnati Bell Partial ? 2.5 G Data access only
Cricket Wireless No CDMA Network
DMTS Yes 2.5 G Data access only
I Wireless Partial ? 2.5 G Data access only
Immix Yes
Long Lines Wireless Yes 2.5 G Network
Metro PCS No CDMA Network
Mobilicity Partial ? AWS Network
MTS No CDMA Network
NorthernTel No CDMA Network
Ntelos No CDMA Network
Pocket Communications No CDMA Network
Revol Wireless CDMA Network
Sasktel Partial Iphone only work in UMTS coverage area only
SouthernLINC No Iden Network
Tbaytel No CDMA Network
Videotron Partial ? AWS Network
Wind Mobile Partial ? AWS Network
West Central Wireless Yes

Partial Compatibility: Using an unlocked iPhone on any carrier that uses Advanced Wireless spectrum bands (1.7 & 2.1 GHz) could end up being a shot in the dark in terms of compatibility.  Using an unlocked iPhone on a carrier that uses AWS bands may leave users without 3G service when using a carrier that uses AWS to carry 3G data traffic and routes phone calls and 2.5G data traffic on the traditional GSM service on the 850 and 1.9 GHz bands.  For startup carriers that are only licensed to use the AWS bands, popping in a SIM card into an unlocked iPhone could mean the iPhone would flip into roaming mode when it finds a network belonging to one of the big national carriers.  Even if you are within reach of your regional cell carrier.  

If an iPhone does work on my carrier, will it continue to work forever?  That depends, if the iPhone was sold unlocked by Apple there is nothing that Apple would do to change that.  If however the lockdown to a carrier was removed through jailbreaking, then every update to the firmware or iOS operating system will remove the jailbreak and lockdown the iPhone to the carrier that originally sold and activated the iPhone.  Cellular network technology is continuing to evolve and today's GSM, and UMTS networks will be moving to the next standard called Long Term Evolution (LTE).  The switch over to LTE will not be complete for several years.  

If or When a CDMA iPhone arrives...: Rumors have persisted since the original iPhone was released that there would be a version of the iPhone that could be used on cellular networks that used CDMA technology.  Any CDMA iPhone would first come to the big national carriers first and may come down to the regional carriers depending on the agreement that Apple makes with Verizon or Sprint.  Traditionally CDMA phones haven't been as unlockable and used on any network as their GSM counterparts.  Even if the firmware of any CDMA phone can be flashed to unlock it to accept programming to work with another carrier, the carriers refuse to activate any phone that they didn't originally sell.  If the electronic serial number (ESN) doesn't exist in a carrier's database of ESN's of phones they supplied then the activation is declined.

Buying an unlocked iPhone, which can prove to be an expensive proposition at the best of time without any assurance of compatibility with a regional carrier could be considered to be a gamble especially when Apple and the carriers that sell iPhones are constantly moving to get one step ahead of those who unlock iPhones.  


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