The Holy Grail of Cell Phones: Global

by Colin Berkshire

Colin here…

An amazing thing happened recently, and very little fanfare was given to it: The global cell phone.

It’s long been the bane of globe trotting road warriors to have to deal with which models of which cell phones work in which countries. It’s a morass. Phones in Japan don’t work in the US. The US model phones don’t work in China at 4G speeds. Chinese phones won’t work on Verizon.

This is why you go through a complicated purchasing tree when buying an iPhone. That phone is going to work with the carrier you choose and a few select others. I know folks that have to carry three iPhones with them.

Well, this has all just changed.

Without much fanfare, Apple has started shipping a single iPhone that works pretty much everywhere. It supports the mainstream GSM used in most countries. It supports T-Mobile’s rather peculiar 4G implementation. It supports Verizon’s obsolete CDMA network. It works in Korea with their incompatible system. And most profoundly it works in China at full 4G speeds.

One model. All frequencies and protocols.

The model you want is the A1524 or A1586 depending on whether you want the iPhone 6 or the iPhone 6 plus. You get this unique, magical model by choosing the “SIM Free” model. The price is exactly the same as all other models; thus, this is an “IQ Test” in that you are stupid if you don’t buy this version if you travel or need the freedom to switch networks.

Why is this model so magical?

It is very possibly the only single phone on earth that can talk all of the weird flavors of GSM, and talk the highly incompatible CDMA used by Verizon and Korea, and spectacularly it talks on both of the proprietary Chinese LTE protocols. Yes, China has a proprietary protocol that is “time division” (TD) based. While this super-weird protocol is only used in China, it also happens to be very efficient and there are repeated rumors that Sprint is planning on adopting it as they shut down ClearWire this year.

(Disclaimer: It’s possible, but unlikely, that there are cell companies out there that have a special flavor of iPhone needed to access their towers.)

As a person that travels extensively internationally I couldn’t be more excited about this new “Global iPhone.” It means for the first time I can have a single iPhone that works in pretty much every country and on every carrier.

And, if that weren’t enough it is possibly the first time that a single phone can work on your choice of Verizon or Sprint. (Apple’s documentation is conflicting on this point but seems to indicate this is possible.) Traditionally, CDMA phones have been carrier locked to a single CDMA carrier even though the GSM side of the phone is unlocked.

To the best of my knowledge, for the first time in most countries, a single model of phone can be taken to any carrier. Every country has their oddball carrier and this seems to support them. I checked in China, Hong Kong, Thailand, Korea and Japan and it seems to list all of the technology-incompatible companies.

The introduction of this model of phone was done as a non-event non-announcement by Apple. It’s marketed merely as “SIM Free.” You would have thought it would be hailed as the breakthrough that it is: The first global phone.

My guess is that Apple has had to be low key on this because US carriers [cough AT&T cough] are loathe to allow their customers leave their crappy networks as easily as popping in a new SIM.

Oh, and in case you think buying a phone and paying full price will cost you more, I will point out that it’s actually much cheaper. Verizon gives you a $25 a month discount when you buy your phone. This is a $600 discount over two years, which makes this phone a “best value” as well as being a “best everywhere.”