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What is Sim Free?

Friday 29th May 2009 by Andy Simpson in How to Guides, Mobile Phones, Mobile Technology.

There’s been a lot of confusion over the years about the terms “SIM free” and “unlocked.” They’re phrases that we all hear, and they’re often used interchangeably, but what do they actually mean?

What is a SIM card?

First, we need to know what a SIM card is. A SIM card is a small piece of plastic and circuitry that sits inside your phone, uniquely identifying it to a specific network. For example, you might have an EE sim card, which allows you to connect to EE’s network and provides you with a unique phone number so that you can make calls, send texts and connect to the internet.

SIM cards are removable, so you can bring your phone number and mobile service with you when you switch from one phone to another. You can also get new SIM cards when you sign up for a new pay-as-you-go or monthly contract, letting you switch networks while keeping the same phone.

What locked and unlocked really mean

A phone is said to be locked if it can only be used with one mobile network (or group of mobile networks). For example, most phones sold by O2 on a monthly contract or pay-as-you-go will only work with O2 SIM cards.

Conversely, an unlocked phone can be used without restriction on multiple mobile networks, just by switching the SIM card in the phone for a different one. These phones might have had their network locks removed after purchase, or they might not have existed in the first place.

What SIM free really means

A phone is sold SIM free if it does not come with a SIM card. Instead, it’s up to you to provide and install a SIM card for the phone. A SIM free phone can come locked or unlocked. If it is unlocked, then any SIM card that physically fits will work. If it is locked, then you must insert a matching SIM or unlock the phone.

All phones sold on Mobile Fun are both SIM free and unlocked, meaning they come without a SIM card, and will work on all networks.

Why are SIM free phones more expensive?

SIM free phones are often much more expensive than phones sold on contract, with flagship phones costing £500 or more. In contrast, the same phone might cost nothing up front on a monthly contract. This is because your network is spreading the cost of the phone across your monthly bill for the length of your contract. This reduces your up-front expenses, but often raises the price marginally in the long run.

Questions? Comments?

I hope I’ve answered your questions. If anything isn’t clear or you’d like us to cover something else, please let us know by writing in the comments below or speaking to us on Twitter @mobilefun.

  • http://williamjudd.com/ William Judd

    It looks like Vodafone’s 4G network in Portugal is on bands 800, 1800 and 2600.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_LTE_networks#Europe

    Checking on GSM Arena, the One M8 supports all of these bands – so you should be just fine.

    http://www.gsmarena.com/htc_one_(m8)-6074.php

  • Saskia De Visser

    Hi there, If I buy a HTC m8 on a contract from vodafone (UK) would my Portuguese vodafone sim card work on this same phone when used in portugal ?

  • jacko

    My father is 86 and just needs a phone for calls and text He does not have internet. He tied himself into a contract which was not a good deal but it is coming to the end so I am looking for the cheapest deal for him. Could he just use his existing phone with a new basic contract or should he look for one with new phone It is so confusing with cash backs etc. He changed from Pay as you go to a contract because he did not want to keep topping up. He does not use it much, mostly when not at home for emergencies or when is in hospital etc. Are there any special deals for senior citizens with phone that are easier to use.

  • http://williamjudd.com/ William Judd

    It depends on which frequencies/bands your phone supports. Look up the phone you have on GSMArena, then check that against the bands that Airtel/Vodafone provide.

  • Preethi Raj

    I’ve got a UK Sim free phone, bought in the UK. I’m moving to India next month and I’m wondering whether I can use Airtel/Vodafone sim in India with my phone. Some people say I can’t use this phone in India for 3G and some say it won’t work at all. Why can’t I use a ‘sim free’ phone in India? Might be due to different bands/frequencies?? Please clarify.

  • Raj

    Great! Thanks.

  • http://williamjudd.com/ William Judd

    Yes, that should work!

  • Raj

    Can I buy a UK sim free phone and use Indian Sim card. The reason why I’m asking is I’m a visitor the UK and I’m looking to buy a phone here. Once I go back to India, I want to know if I can use the network sim cards in India with the sim free phone I purchased in the UK?

  • lavinia

    very useful thank you

  • http://www.facebook.com/david.hilel.1 David Hilel

    Thx!

  • http://williamjudd.com/ William Judd

    It should all work out, I wouldn’t worry about it :)

  • Chaz

    i want to buy a sony xperia tipo but its a sim free phone as they dont sell it on my network 3, will my 3 contract sim card work in this sim free phone, i checked the specifications on this phone and the phone runs 3G and it is listed as 2100/UMTS ?, i dont want to buy the phone and then the sim card dont work i spoke to my network provider they sed it wudnt be a problem but im not certain can anyone help? or has any 1 come accross the same sort of problem?

  • http://williamjudd.com/ William Judd

    Take it back to the store :) If it’s meant to be unlocked, then it should work. If it isn’t unlocked, you’ve been misled by the woman you spoke to.

  • oldy

    bought an Alcatel 3g phone from Tesco as the woman said it would work with 3.. got home and it says emergency calls only.. can anyone help?

  • ReiKarlo Esguerra

    hello! just wanna ask if “simfree” phones can have GSM-network sim inserted? Thank you.

  • Lousina

    Am new to MobileFun & found explanations really helpful. However, also newbie to smartphones and would appreciate suggestion as best to buy; want it to be sim-free as do not want to be tied to any network. Hope you can help because everything changes to quickly that I feel somewhat overwhelmed by technology – hard to keep on top of things.

  • http://williamjudd.com/ William Judd

    I’d recommend checking out giffgaff – you can get unlimited internet, unlimited texts and 250 minutes with a £10 goodybag. You can order two sims (for free) if you like, and on the second one get a data-only goody bag for the iPad.

    http://giffgaff.com/orders/affiliate/wsjudd

  • Rick

    Great article, thanks. I am traveling to the Uk in May and would liken to buy a ‘Pay as you Go’ phone. Where do you get Sim cards and at what cost. Will be there 3 weeks and expect minimal use of the phone, guessing 40-50 calls max.
    Also have a iPAD, can I get a month 3G contract to use there?

  • pomodori1

    thanx buddy, it helpd me a lot

  • Dantheman

    you can get a phone that you can put two sim cards in or 3 sim cards in look on ebey and there are lots on there i got a phone where i put 3 sim cards in

  • Captain B

    Thanks William. That’s all I needed to know.

  • Anonymous

    That’s definitely the plan! You can even pick up a dual sim adapter for an iPhone 4 here:
    http://www.mobilefun.co.uk/dual-sim-card-adapter-with-back-case-iphone-4-p25932.htm

  • Captain B

    I have two pay as you go phones. One I use in Spain (Vodafone Espana) and one I use in the UK (Vodafone UK). Both, obviously with different numbers. My question is. Can I buy one good smart phone, put both cards in it and switch from one to the other whichever country I’m in?

  • Captain B

    I have two pay as you go phones. One I use in Spain (Vodafone Espana) and one I use in the UK (Vodafone UK). Both, obviously with different numbers. My question is. Can I buy one good smart phone, put both cards in it and switch from one to the other whichever country I’m in?

  • Messssj

    thank you very much

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