There’s been quite a bit of confusion over the years about the terms “Sim Free“, “Unlocked“, “Dual Band” & “Unblocked“. They’re phrases we’ve all heard of, but just what exactly do they mean?
To understand these phrases it helps to have a slightly better understanding of how mobile phone pricing works.
When you buy a handset on either contract or pay as you go, your network will discount or subsidise the handset cost. Mobile phones cost a lot more than you’d expect, so when you take out a contract and get a free handset, some of your monthly line rental will go towards covering the cost of the phone. The same applies to pay as you go phones, the networks reduce the cost of the phone to encourage you to join their network and will then make that money back through your call charges.
The Networks know how long it will take for your line rental costs to cover the money they paid out on the phone – which is why over the last few years, we’ve seen contract lengths increase to 18 or 24 months as phones have become more expensive and sophisticated. With pay as you go phones, there is no line rental so they can’t guarantee they will make their money back, which is why you’ll always find pay as you go phones to be more expensive and often locked to the network you buy them on.
So, now you’re kind of up to speed on the thinking behind it all, I’ll try and answer your questions!
This is the phrase that is probably used the least, but is normally what people mean. Sim Free means exactly that – there is no Sim card included, it is just the phone (and any included accessories), because there is no network commitment here, the phone is not subsidised and will be the true value of the handset. As the handsets are not tied in any way to a network, any sim free phone can be used with almost all Sim cards (some won’t work on the 3 Network – see below). They have no network branding and will have the manufacturers original menu system on them. Buying your phone Sim Free can be a more expensive way of running a mobile phone, but handsets will often be available Sim Free before they are available through the networks, and with networks now doing much better deals on Sim only contracts, it can work out a cheaper, less restrictive way of running your mobile. All Sim Free phones sold by Mobile Fun are unlocked unless otherwise stated and will work with both contract and pay as you go sim cards.
An unlocked handset can be the same as a Sim Free handset, but although similar in meaning to Sim Free, “unlocked” can be something completely different. The phrase “Unlocked” can refer to a handset that was originally sold on a network and was locked to that network – for example, most Vodafone handsets will only work with a Vodafone Sim Card. To use the phone on Orange for example, would mean that you would have to get the handset unlocked. By unlocking your handset, you remove this restriction and allow the phone to work with any network sim. Downsides to this are that “locked” handsets are normally network branded (the menu system will be configured for that one network) and some features may not be available or work properly. Unlocking a handset can sometimes invalidate your warranty, so its best to check with the manufacturer or network first. All Sim Free phones sold by Mobile Fun are unlocked unless otherwise stated and will work with both contract and pay as you go sim cards.
Slightly more technical this one, but I’ll try to keep this as simple as possible! During my time in retail, a lot of people would come in asking if a phone was “dual banded” thinking that this meant Sim Free and open to all networks, but this is not the case. Dual band simply refers to the number of frequencies that a handset can work on. These days, every phone on the market is Dual Band, most are Tri Band and some are Quad Band! The theory is, the more bands the phone has, the more countries the phone will work in.
The confusion came in the UK with Dual Band when Orange and T-Mobile (One-2-One) launched in the late 90′s. Vodafone and O2, (Cellnet as was) worked on one frequency, and Orange and T-Mobile worked on another. Most handsets back then were single band and would only work on either Vodafone and O2 or Orange and T-Mobile, but not both. As technology moved on, phones started to become Dual Band – this meant that manufacturers only needed to make one handset, rather than two versions of the same phone. For various reasons, the networks began to introduce a network lock that prevented these phones from working on the other networks. So even though the handsets were Dual Band and worked on both frequencies – they would still only work on the network they were sold on unless the customer had the handset unlocked. Asking for a Dual Band phone, will get you a phone that works on two frequencies, but it won’t necessarily work on the network you want it to. Similarly, tri-band handsets works on three different frequencies, and quad-band handsets on four, but these handsets can still be locked to a network.
Buying a Pay as you go phone, can be a cheaper alternative to buying Sim Free if you need to replace a handset without spending a fortune, but there are a few downsides that you will need to consider. Nearly all Pay as you go phones will be locked to the network they are sold on, so you’d need to buy your handset carefully. Most networks now insist on a minimum top up when you buy the phone, so the price you see may not be the price you end up paying. The handsets will be configured for Pay as you go, so some contract services may not work. Buying a phone on Pre-pay with the intention of using a different Sim Card, (Box-breaking) is against the terms of service for most networks, and can land you in trouble, so its normally worth checking with your network. Most networks will normally offer some kind of incentive if you want to upgrade, so its worth a call to customer services before you buy. Pay as you go phones, will work with contract sim cards, but you will need to change some settings in order to access Internet and Picture Message services.