Difference Between a Locked & Unlocked iPhone?

Should you buy a locked or unlocked iPhone? What's the difference?

Find out the difference between locked and unlocked iPhones

Difference between a locked and unlocked iPhone: usability

To find out what the difference is between locked and unlocked iPhones, we must first discuss where locked iPhones come from.

Carriers usually have good deals on smartphones. Thanks to various deals and seasonal offers, you can usually get a new iPhone for much less from a carrier like T-Mobile or Verizon than you can buying it from Apple for full price. This obviously sounds great (who doesn’t like a deal) but are you really getting the same product? And the answer to this (surprisingly) is “no.”

Spoiler alert: Want an easy way of telling the difference between locked and unlocked iPhones? Most of the iPhones carriers sell are locked, while if you buy one straight from Apple it's probably unlocked.

You see, when you get an iPhone from T-Mobile, Verizon, or any other carrier, they’re usually locked to just work on that carrier. This is the core difference between a locked and unlocked iPhone. Perhaps this isn’t a bad thing if you intend to stay on that carrier for the foreseeable future. But maybe you plan to travel to another country, or maybe you’re thinking about switching network carriers, or maybe you just want the freedom of having a phone that can work on any service carrier?

Whichever one of these you seek, you can still unlock a phone that you purchased from your carrier, and there are many ways to do this. If you read our article about “How to unlock my iPhone,” you’ll find out how to unlock your iPhone. But even if you do this, there is a good chance it still won’t work on all networks. Why is this the case?

Difference between a locked and unlocked iPhone: internal antennas

When you buy a locked iPhone from your carrier, it usually only comes with the antennas that this carrier uses to transmit its signal. And different carriers transmit different signals. So, let’s say you get an iPhone from Verizon, unlock it yourself, and then try to use it on T-Mobile: it probably won’t work. This is because Verizon uses different antennas than T-Mobile. Now, this isn’t the case with all carriers—some carriers use similar antennas—but if you really want an unlocked iPhone, it’s best to buy one that already has all the necessary antennas installed.

So when you view our selection of unlocked phones, make sure to check which ones come equipped with the antennas you need! We made this super simple: instead of listing a ton of technical details and antenna frequencies (headache), we list the carriers each phone will work with. Please look for the name of your carrier under each product to make sure that it works with your network!

Also, if you have a smaller carrier like Cricket or Metro PCS, make sure to check what network they use to operate. Many of these carriers are subsidiaries of larger networks like T-Mobile and AT&T and also work great with unlocked phones :)

Now that you know the main differences between locked and unlocked iPhones, let's get into answering a few additional questions!

Is it better to get an unlocked iPhone?

Well, it's better to get an unlocked iPhone because it can work on almost any carrier, but unfortunately, you'll probably end up paying a little more for it. But if you plan to use your phone for international traveling, the extra cost might be worth it!

What are the disadvantages of unlocked iPhones?

The cost is the main disadvantage of buying an unlocked iPhone, especially if you're buying a new one. Unlocked iPhones are often more expensive than iPhones that are locked to a single carrier.

Can a locked iPhone be unlocked?

Yes, a locked iPhone can be unlocked, but you'll need to contact your carrier to do that for you. Hint: a carrier can only unlock an iPhone that has been fully paid off.

Andre from Back Market
By Andre Kopacki, Content Manager

The kind of guy that likes technology a little too much and can't stop talking about it. Good thing I work at Back Market :D

Did you find this article useful ?

Related articles