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Galaxy Note 3 region lock explained: what it means and how it affects you

Recent reports suggest Samsung has begun region locking its phones, such as the new Samsung Galaxy Note 3 and the flagship Samsung Galaxy S4. What does mean and how will it affect you? Our guide has the answers and will keep updating it as new information arrives.

Update 13:28 on 01/10

Since our last update, it appears as if there’s still a great deal of uncertainty surrounding the SIM unlock issue. Despite Samsung’s official statement, reports suggest phones may still be locked to a single SIM and unable to use a regional SIM card. See the comments for updates from readers, and please post any information you come across. We’re currently seeking a further update from Samsung.

Update 14:43 on 27/09

Samsung has now responded officially to the reports. The short version of the story is the lock only applies before the first activation. Once activated in the home region you can use SIMs from any region when travelling.

Samsung Statement
In order to provide customers with the optimal mobile experience in each region including customer care services, Samsung has incorporated the ‘regional SIM lock’ feature into Galaxy Note 3 devices.

The product is only compatible with a SIM-card issued from a mobile operator within the region identified on the sticker of the product package. When the device is activated with a SIM card issued from the other region, the device may be automatically locked until it is released at the dedicated service center. 

Once a device is activated normally, the regional SIM lock is automatically released. Users can enjoy the roaming service as usual and can use other region’s SIM card when travelling.

The regional SIM lock has been applied to the Galaxy Note II and Galaxy S4 devices through a software update in selective markets.

The regional SIM lock does not affect the device’s features and performance. Users can continue to enjoy all the advanced features of our products.

What is a region lock?

In this case, the Galaxy Note 3 region lock means you cannot import phones from other countries. That’s because you have to activate phones using a SIM from the country in which the phone was orginally sold.

Does that mean I can’t use my phone abroad?

No, you can use your phone abroad and you can even use a local SIM when travelling, but only if you’ve already activated the phone in your home region.

Do any other phone brands region lock their phones?

So far as we are aware, no. It’s normal for phones to be locked to a specific network when bought on a contract from a network provider. It’s not typical for phones to be specifically region locked in this way.

Can the Samsung region lock be removed?

It is automatically removed provided you activate the phone first in the region it was bought. If, however, you import a phone and activate with a SIM not from the phone’s region, it will be locked and must be unlocked by a dedicated service centre. Samsung makes no guarantees about doing this, however. It might also be possible to remove the lock by loading a custom ROM, but there’s no confirmation of this at present.

Why is Samsung doing this?

At first it was perceived by some as a way of protecting network providers. With Samsung’s statement, however, it’s clear Samsung is only interested in restricting the ‘grey market’ of imports.

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