Apple is speculated to be delivering unlocked versions of the GSM iPhone 4 in the U.S. as early as Wednesday. Sources report that iPhone 4 with the model numbers MC603, MC604, MC605, and MC606 are starting to appear inside retail stores, and those models are similar to the unlocked counterparts sold in countries where Apple currently offers an unlocked option, except these models like a suffix like B for Britain or C for Canada at the end, suggesting that they’ll be made available for the U.S. market.
Thus far, GSM iPhones sold in the U.S. have been sucject to a carrier lock by AT&T, even if they are purchased at full retail pricing sans subsidies. AT&T requires a voice and data plan, along with a contract for an iPhone sold through its channels. In other countries where either Apple is compelled by law to offer an unlocked version, or if it is profitable to offer such a model, the company has provided an unlocked iPhone model.
The move to provide an unlocked GSM version of the iPhone in the U.S. may be commanded by AT&T. The carrier may want to appear to be less controlling of the space in light of tougher scrutiny of its merger of T-Mobile. Additionally, it may want to offer T-Mobile USA customers an olive branch by persuading them to purchase into the iOS ecosystem prior to the merger by giving them a legal, authorized method to do so with an unlocked iPhone model that would be compatible with T-Mobile USA’s 2G EDGE network.
As AT&T and T-Mobile operate under different 3G spectrums, the iPhone 4 would not be compatible with T-Mobile USA’s 3G or 4G network. Instead, customers who buy the iPhone 4 for use domestically would have to use it on T-Mobile’s 2G EDGE network, which delivers slower mobile broadband speeds and would lack the ability to do simultaneous voice and data while on 2G.
For AT&T’s customers, the move will be a welcomed move as it would allow business customers the ability to use local pre-paid SIM cards while travelling internationally. This way, they can save money by going with a local carrier rather than be subjected to AT&T’s roaming costs. As AT&T markets itself more to the enterprise demographics, compared to T-Mobile’s consumer-centric marketing, the move to offer its internationally traveling business customers an iOS option in lieu of roaming rates may help AT&T bolster its reputation.