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Apple Starts Selling Unlocked iPhones In US

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The Verizon version of the Apple iPhone. (Don Emmert/AFP/Getty Images)

The Verizon version of the Apple iPhone. (Don Emmert/AFP/Getty Images)

Brian Cooley’s Tech Watch
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CUPERTINO (CBS/AP) – Apple is selling “unlocked” iPhones in the U.S. for the first time, allowing owners to switch carriers to a limited extent.

The unlocked iPhone 4s are listed Tuesday on Apple Inc.’s website for $649 and $749. They’re identical to the version sold for use on AT&T Inc.’s network, but don’t require a two-year contract.

The buyer will separately have to buy a Subscriber Identity Module, or SIM card, from a carrier to activate the phone. Apart from AT&T, the only national U.S. carrier that’s compatible with the phone is T-Mobile USA, and it can provide only phone calls and low data speeds. Its U.S. “3G” wireless high-speed data network isn’t compatible with the iPhone.

CNET Editor-at-Large Brian Cooley Comments:

Many overseas carriers, however, are fully compatible with the phone, so international travelers can switch out their U.S. SIM card with one from the local country to avoid AT&T’s international roaming fees.

Apple already sells unlocked iPhones in all other countries where the phone is available, according to Apple spokeswoman Natalie Harris.

Hackers have also made a sport of unlocking iPhones, freeing them up for resale and use in other countries.

AT&T sells iPhone 4s that are locked but don’t come with contracts, also for $649 and $749. Spokesman Mark Siegel said AT&T will not sell the new unlocked phones.

AT&T does not let customers unlock older iPhones either. The company provides unlock codes to customers with other phones if their contracts have expired or they’re willing to pay an early termination fee.

Unlocked and no-contract phones are more expensive than phones sold under contract because carriers like AT&T subsidize phones that come with contracts, figuring that they will make their money back through service fees.

(Copyright 2011 by CBSSan Francisco. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Wire services may have contributed to this report.)

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