I was mere seconds away from buying the new iPhone 5 (available for pre-order since this morning), but then I wondered…
“Will my iPhone 5 Work Abroad?“
“Will the iPhone 5 work when I travel?” is a question you have to ask yourself before sinking $600-$800 on it.
A global-ready phone is more important to me than having a bigger screen, so I had to know. I investigated… and here’s what I found out.
Apple Provides Different iPhone 5 Models to Different Countries.
To work on different LTE networks around the world, Apple had to make 3 (yes, three) different iPhone 5 models. If you want to browse the web with that super-fast LTE speed, wherever you are, you should read how these models differ.
First, a ultra-quick mention how phones talk to your phone company…
A Techie 10-Second Primer on Phone Communication
There are two technologies for phones to talk to the cell tower: CDMA and GSM. From an expat’s view, the whole world uses GSM, except for the US and Japan, who use CDMA. (Yes, like the metric system, the US stands apart from the rest of the world.)
So, What iPhone 5 Will I Have?
(Answer: Where do you live?)
If you live in Canada, your iPhone 5 will be the GSM model – specifically, model A1428
If you live in Japan, your iPhone 5 will be the CDMA version, model A1429
If you live in the US, it’s down to the phone company you bought it from.
If in the US, and you bought from AT&T, your iPhone 5 will be GSM, model A1428
If in the US, and you bought from Verizon or Sprint, your iPhone 5 will be CDMA, model A1429
UPDATE: If in the US, and you bought from Apple (their unlocked / no contract version), then you get the A1428.
(Thanks Deyner, and everyone keeping the comments so helpful.)
If you live in Europe, your iPhone 5 will be a GSM model, regardless of the phone company, iPhone 5 model A1429
Technical Details from Each iPhone Model’s Perspective
The A1428 model (Canada and US AT&T network) is GSM. The A1428 supports UMTS/HSPA+DC-HSDPA (frequencies 850, 900, 1900, 2100 MHz), GSM/EDGE (frequencies 850, 900, 1800, 1900 MHz), and LTE bands 4 and 17.
The A1429 model comes in two different flavours, one CDMA and one GSM:
The A1428 GSM model supports LTE in Asia (e.g. South Korea, Singapore, Hong Kong, and Japan, too) as well as LTE in Australia, Germany, and the UK on bands 1, 3, and 5.
The A1429 CDMA version supports Sprint’s and Verizon’s LTE networks in the US, the KDDI network in Japan on bands 1, 3, 5, 13, and 25.
Important: The CDMA version will also support GSM bands. This means the CDMA iPhone 5 will be compatible with some GSM networks. BUT…the CDMA A1429 will not support LTE on GSM networks in the US. Whew… got that?
Wait, Will It Freakin’ Work or Not?
It comes down to this: Yes and no.
YES: If you’re travelling between countries that share the same bands and standard, you’re in luck. Unlock your phone, buy a local SIM from the kiosk on the street – BOOM, you’re as good as a local with a locally provided iPhone 5.
NO: After reading the above, you might learn your iPhone 5 can’t make use of the host country’s LTE network. That said, if you’re sipping cappuccino or slurping Tom Yum noodle soup, you got extra time. Enjoy the sights and then look back at your phone. :-)
Update: Confirmed Verizon Sells Unlocked iPhone 5
From a reader last night:
I was on the phone with Verizon a few days ago on another matter and happened to ask How to unlock my i-Phone 5 when my contract was up and I plan to us it in Thailand. I was told that ALL Verizon i-Phone fives are sold unlocked and I only need to swap the SIM card. I presume that it could be used on any GSM network that uses one of the local broadcast frequencies supported by the i-Phone 5.
If you live in the US, jump here to see some guy’s comparison between Sprint, Verizon and AT&T iPhone 5s. He also mentioned the Verizon iPhone sold as unlocked.
If Reading Nothing, Read This
Bottom line is this: if your iPhone 5 is a GSM model (whether A1428 or A1429), it will work with GSM networks around the world. However, the super-fast LTE connectivity will happen in the region your phone is designed for (whether North America or Europe/Asia).
Note: when you’re buying an unlocked iPhone 5, you should be buying at full price (=$600-$1500 US$ depending what country you’re in). If you’re paying a subsidized price (normal in the USA), then it’s very likely the phone’s not unlocked.
Now, before any serious tech aficionados call me out, let me say I am not an expert, nor do I work for any of the companies mentioned above. If you’ve got expertise, complaints or Apple fan-boy sputtering to add, please feel free to comment below.
Your Expatyourself Apple fan-boy,