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Unlocked = Confused - Because opposite is "Locked"

Cindy on Swappa

So I understand GSM (ATT / T-Mobile) and CDMA (Verizon / Sprint) networks. But sellers of iPhones are putting in descriptions: "will work on ATT and Cricket only" as one example...and they aren't listed as unlocked when I use your filter and choose "unlocked" as the network provider. This is confusing to me.

So - if I want an older iPhone, like a 7 or 8, for use on the Consumer Cellular network - I would want a GSM phone, because they use the ATT & T Mobile networks. Would it be safe to just search for the model: A1778 ( for the GSM version of the iPhone 7)? Because the opposite of searching for an "unlocked phone" would seem to be buying a "locked to a network" phone. But my common sense is telling me Swappa doesn't sell LOCKED to network phones - is that correct?

Will Verduzco on Swappa
Will Verduzco

Hey there Cindy!

That's a fantastic question! Determining cell phone compatibility isn't always straight forward.

As you mentioned, older iPhones (specifically iPhone X and below) were sold in the US with different radio hardware depending on the intended network. And as you mentioned, this means that some models were broadly hardware-compatible with all US networks, whereas others were only compatible with GSM networks -- commonly referred to as "GSM Only" models. Many of these "GSM Only" iPhones can connect to Verizon's 4G LTE network -- but they cannot connect to its legacy 3G fallback in areas with poor 4G coverage.

Fortunately, you mentioned that you are looking for a GSM phone, which means that any unlocked iPhone will work, and that you don't have to seek out the so-called "GSM Only" model.

In other words, if you are on a GSM carrier, you can buy any of the following models:

In contrast, people looking to buy an older used iPhone for use on a CDMA network will need to avoid the GSM-only models and purchase a GSM+CDMA model instead:

Want to dive even deeper? Please check out the Swappa Unlocked iPhone Carrier Compatibility Guide to learn everything you need to know about unlocked iPhones and compatible carriers!

Cindy on Swappa

Hi Will - That is a good explanation of the networks and compatibility - what you didn't explicitly spell out is - Yes, Swappa phones that are not advertised as "unlocked" therefore ARE locked (to a carrier). I think Swappa should be more clear about that. So for example, a reseller states phone is ATT or Cricket compatible, or T-Mobile Metro PCS compatible, but doesn't say it is unlocked...then that means it is LOCKED to those carriers. I understand saying a phone is LOCKED has a negative connotation but it is honest information that should be shared.

Nathan A. on Swappa
Nathan A.

Cindy, also keep in mind that since Consumer Cellular runs on AT&T towers, even an iPhone that's still locked to AT&T will work fine on Consumer Cellular. Just something to remember, in case you find something in the "AT&T locked" section that you really like

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