Apple started offering the unlocked, SIM-free model of the iPhone X on Monday. These phones can work on any carrier that provides service to the iPhone. These phones were made available, without anyone really knowing about it. Why is this important? The SIM card in your phone is what allows wireless carriers to identify and authenticate the device on their network. Many people take their SIM card with them when they upgrade their phone. They simply insert the old SIM card into their new device. If you travel or work in another country, it’s possible to swap in a SIM card from a local wireless carrier instead of opting for an international smartphone plan.
But when you buy a SIM-free, unlocked iPhone X, you can insert a SIM card for any US carrier. In fact, it will also work with foreign SIM cards in other countries where the iPhone is supported as well. This makes it simple for you to switch to any carrier of your choice. So why does it matter which phone you buy? The SIM-free unlocked iPhone X technically works more like the existing Verizon and Sprint models. These are compatible with Verizon and Sprint’s CDMA network. In addition, it is compatible with GSM networks like AT&T, T-Mobile and many other carriers around the world. That being said, AT&T and T-Mobile customers should opt for the Verizon model if they’re buying it with the Apple iPhone Upgrade Program. Or, buy the new SIM-free unlocked model, if you want the flexibility to switch carriers.
If you do choose AT&T or T-Mobile as your carrier, you’ll get a model that’s only compatible with GSM networks. That is if you buy the iPhone X with Apple’s iPhone Upgrade Program. Which means if AT&T or T-Mobile ever want to switch carriers, they will have to get a brand new iPhone. Which is why Apple is saying that AT&T and T-Mobile customers may need to visit an Apple Store in order to switch carriers. And this is why. So you can get a new Verizon/Sprint compatible model. The good news is that if you’re part of the iPhone Upgrade Program, you can do this for free. You still have to go through the hassle of actually making the switch. But it won’t cost you anything.
Fun fact. If an AT&T customer switched to Verizon and got a new Verizon-compatible iPhone X in the process, they would be able to switch back to AT&T. Specifically, they wouldn’t need to get a new iPhone because the Verizon model is compatible with AT&T’s GSM network. Confused yet? AT&T and T-Mobile customers can buy the Verizon or Sprint iPhone X models using the iPhone Upgrade Program without a Verizon or Sprint account.
If you haven’t enrolled in the iPhone Upgrade Program, your best bet is to buy the new SIM-free, unlocked iPhone X model. This at least gives you flexibility if you ever want to switch. The SIM-free iPhone X isn’t part of the Upgrade Program, so you will have to buy the phone outright – instead of paying for it installments. All of this seems extremely complicated. But the good news is that you have some control over which carrier you choose and therefore which phone you decide to buy.