T-Mobile Unlocked iPhone in Japan?

Discussion in 'iPhone Tips, Help and Troubleshooting' started by Makosuke, Oct 25, 2013.

  1. Makosuke macrumors 603

    Aug 15, 2001
    The Cool Part of CA, USA
    My wife is going to be in Japan for a couple of months, and travels back and forth with some regularity, and we're extremely light cell users in the US (I have a 3GS on H2O and don't even use up the $10/month minimum prepaid), so we're considering getting an unlocked 5s so that we could use a month-to-month plan in the US and switch to a prepaid SIM in Japan as necessary. We have no interest in getting a subsidized phone due to just not wanting a large monthly bill and having no guarantee how many of the next 24 months the phone will even be in the US (buying one in Japan would put us in the same boat).

    However, looking at Apple's LTE compatibility page, it looks like the 5s model we'd really want is the A1453, which in the US is only apparently available from Sprint and not unlocked. I even checked with Apple Store support and they said "no luck".

    Which limits me to the T-Mobile "uncarrier" version (it's the A1533 GSM one, apparently), which at least seems like it can do what I want with it. Has anybody used that phone in Japan?

    Docomo's network (who the prepaid carrier we're looking at uses) apparently is GSM compatible on their non-LTE coverage, so I'm assuming that it would just not work at LTE speeds on account of not having the extra 800MHz band on the antenna (in fact, some of Docomo's network uses a non-800MHz LTE band, so it might still work--I had trouble finding info on exactly what bands their "Xi" service uses--they just say "Xi (800MHz)" and "Xi").

    I'm pretty sure it'll get at least some functionality, I'm just wondering if anybody has tried it personally yet (or knows more than I do about what LTE bands Docomo's Xi service uses) before I go sinking a thousand dollars into a phone and prepaid plan.
  2. zmon macrumors regular


    Oct 10, 2013
    DoCoMo, last I checked, was using LTE bands 1, 3 (this being Tokyo, Nagoya, and Osaka only), 19, and 21. 28 was planned, but rollout isn't for a while I believe.

    It should work fine as the A1533 has all the LTE bands that Japan has (minus 21 anyways, but then again, no 5S's have that band). Verizon's 5S comes GSM unlocked, while AT&T and Tmobiles need to be unlocked from talking with the carrier.
  3. Neebee macrumors 6502a

    Have you contacted the carrier in Japan? If they sell the iPhone 5S then you should be go to go. I don't believe Apple makes different unlocked versions of it's 5 or 5s any more for different markets.
  4. Makosuke thread starter macrumors 603

    Aug 15, 2001
    The Cool Part of CA, USA
    Thank you very much for the band info, zmon; based on your info, it's not clear why the A1453 is listed as the model for the Japanese carriers, but maybe it has something to do with a planned future rollout of the 18 or 26 (both 800MHz) bands by one or more of the carriers.

    The "uncarrier" (no subsidy) T-Mobile 5s that Apple sells directly says that it will accept international SIM cards in the small print, so I'm assuming it's already unlocked if I get that one.

    I also discovered, however, that T-Mobile is advertising that as of this week their new $50 simple plan includes unlimited (relatively slow speed) international data in a bunch of countries, Japan included, and voice for 0.20/minute, without having to do anything at all. Since that's around the same price as the prepaid SIM I was looking at, and it'd be a heck of a lot easier (plus allow for voice with no hassle, albeit expensive), AND T-Mobile claims that there's no long-term contract and if you cancel early you just pay the remainder of the balance owed on the phone and you're good to go, that sure seems like the best option. I'm going to call them and make sure there's no fine print I'm missing, but sounds like a good deal to me.

    Currently, Apple doesn't technically make any "unlocked" versions of the 5s available in the US, but the T-Mobile "uncarrier" version sold through their own store is completely unsubsidized and claims that it will take international SIM cards, so it sure sounds like it isn't carrier locked, and obviously it doesn't require a contract.

    Regardless, there are four different versions of the 5s listed on that Apple page I linked above, depending on the country you get it in. The two versions available in the US (A1533 for most major carriers, and A1453 for Sprint and a bunch of smaller ones) have similar bands, but the A1453 supports two bands (18 and 26) that the A1533 doesn't, according to Apple. No idea why they have the A1533 at all, honestly, since the other one has all of its bands as well. For a lot of Europe, the A1457 adds band 7 and removes a bunch of other ones from the North American ones, and A1530, for most of Asia and Australia, exchanges several US bands for 38, 39, and 40 (though again, since it also does everything the A1457 does, it's strange that the A1457 exists at all).

    I assume we're approaching the point where Qualcomm (or whoever) can produce a single radio for every possible band, but we don't appear to be there quite yet.

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