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back to article Travel much? DON'T buy a Samsung Galaxy Note 3

Samsung has crippled its new Galaxy Note 3 by adding region-locking, making buyers of unlocked units attempting to use it in geographies outside of the area in which it was purchased subject to exorbitant roaming fees. "We wish to make our customers aware of certain functionality limitation regarding SIM cards on the Note 3. The …

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Angel

The Holy SIM Card of Antiochia?

How many SIM cards has Vatican City issued?

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Re: The Holy SIM Card of Antiochia? Or Nothing SMART about a dummy phone

I never fell for the myth of a dummy phone, sorry smart phone. They are clearly only a marketing scam. Worse, they do not even do anything useful to me, so my elderly Nokia phone will have to last many more years. The modern crap is just that CRAP.

Well done dummy phone makers!

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Anonymous Coward

And they scream at Apple for having a walled garden, at least my unlocked iPad and iPhone works ANYWHERE!

There is no excuse for region locking these devices, Fcuk Samsung.

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Re: at least my unlocked iPad and iPhone works ANYWHERE!

That may be so on the 3G variants, but is certainly not true for the 4G-LTE versions...

I suspect that Samsung, like Apple have decided to produce variants with region specific radio circuitry, so the phone will automatically roam on to 3G when outside of the home region.

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Re: at least my unlocked iPad and iPhone works ANYWHERE!

If it were a radio issue, and the warning would point out that it won't work at all in the other countries. The implication here is that roaming would work, and just not a local SIM. Whilst a technical limitation of a device is disappointing, adding deliberate blocks to functionality that the device has is abhorrent to me (even more than defending Apple).

Is it possible that there is a new standard for a SIM that has only been rolled out in Europe and that the phone depends on a feature in this version?

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Mushroom

@Roland6

According to the article this isn't about different radios, it's about Samsung deliberately locking hardware down to function only within a specified geographical region; so even if your SGN3 is compatible with local radio systems, it will not function on account of the region lock. It's DVD Region Coding all over again.

Apple (and most other manufacturers) take a different approach; they're building in as many compatible radio systems as they can, as fast as they can, to maximise global compatibility. Samsung could do this too, but for economic reasons (being in bed with the carriers) they've decided to region-lock.

Bomb for Samsung because I really really hope this blows up in their faces.

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Re: at least my unlocked iPad and iPhone works ANYWHERE!

The new iDevices can work on more 4G networks - but at least they will fall back to 3G technologies - Samsung have just locked these down do you get nothing. That is quite different.

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A problem?

Would this not be solved with a custom ROM?

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Re: at least my unlocked iPad and iPhone works ANYWHERE! @djack

Underlying this will almost certainly be a radio issue, which may facilitate other regionalisation that a vendor may consider beneficial. Unfortunately I haven't been able to put my hands on model numbers and real specifications for the Galaxy Note 3 and hence are unable to cite exact examples.

However, the evidence from the iPhone 5s, where Apple has released five regional variants, show that currently five different radio circuits are required to fully cover all currently allocated channels and signalling standards used by 4G-LTE worldwide, with three of these variants being needed to serve the US market. These are additional to the radio's required to support fall back to 3G/2G. So given the current status of 4G chipset and radio development, it is likely that ALL manufacturers of 4G phones will have to make some hard decisions about the 4G capabilities of the phones they produce and sell in any particular country and region. This really is no different to the situation with previous generations of mobile phones. GSM back in the 1990's where it took several years for dual-band, then tri-band and finally quad-band handsets to be produced. Likewise it took time for the now seemingly ubiquitous quad-band 3G-UMTS phones to appear.

What is certain is that all vendors will produce 4G phones that support some of the 4G channels and all of the 3G channels, because at the moment 3G is required for voice services, so 3G roaming is (and should be) possible on all phones, regardless of any 4G regionalisation.

What is different between Apple and Samsung is that Samsung have decided to draw attention to this region limitation and have obviously used firmware to enforce a standard of performance when used with a SIM from a different region. Apple on the other hand seems not to have drawn customer attention to the region limitation in their 4G phones (perhaps someone who has purchased an iPhone 5s can confirm this), also I expect that depending upon which region the was purchased in, the region of the SIM-card and the region in which the phone is attempting to gain network access differing results will be obtained, unless Apple have also implemented similar features to Samsung...

Having decided to produce regional variants that only contain sufficient radio circuitry for that region, the question does arise as to how the firmware can be made aware of the hardware and what it does with that information. So having firmware that knows it only contains an EU region radio, it makes sense for it to use the SIM to determine where exactly the phone is in the EU and which channels and networks are available, I suspect that this is a firmware table lookup rather than being supplied by the SIM. Obviously, if the SIM can't be found in the table, the phone defaults to 3G emergency call mode.

As for the requirement for a phone to initially be activated by a SIM from the same country, I suspect that this may be a confusion between country and region and hence a phone purchased in Poland say should work just fine with a UK SIM, although I'm sure someone will respond if this isn't so.

It should be noted that the region lock only applies to Samsung devices manufactured AFTER the end of July 2013. Which seem to encompass their new ranges of 4G devices and probably also impacts the non-4G variants of these devices since they are likely to be running a variant of the same firmware.

Obviously, having implemented regional variants of a product manufacturers et al can envision other benefits to themselves. But as I said fundamentally the heart of the issue is radio's.

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Re: at least my unlocked iPad and iPhone works ANYWHERE! @AC

>The new iDevices can work on more 4G networks - but at least they will fall back to 3G technologies - Samsung have just locked these down do you get nothing.

Wrong! Samsung still permit roaming, the normal mode for 4G roaming is to fall back to 3G. What they don't support is the use of SIMs in phones from different regions. Given the lack of information, it is uncertain whether it is all SIMs or just 4G SIMs, but from a firmware logic viewpoint an all SIM block seems likely.

I suggest there are grounds for complaint if a 4G phone can't be used worldwide with a 3G SIM to access 3G/2G services, given the level of standardisation and harmonisation of radio's for UMTS.

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Re: at least my unlocked iPad and iPhone works ANYWHERE! @AC

"I suggest there are grounds for complaint if a 4G phone can't be used worldwide with a 3G SIM to access 3G/2G services, given the level of standardisation and harmonisation of radio's for UMTS."

The whole point of the article is that the phone DOES work worldwide, but it's locked in such a way that it can only use SIM cards from a certain region and thus the customer has to pay exorbitant roaming fees when using it outside of that region.

You seem to have written about 30 paragraphs in your original post about how this is a good thing that ensures high performance but the only thing it is ensuring is profit for the service providers.

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Re: at least my unlocked iPad and iPhone works ANYWHERE! @djack

@Roland6

I'm not sure why you're defending this; there may or may not be a radio issue, but other manufacturers are treating this as the problem it is (and doing their best to work around it by including different radios); Samsung are embracing it as a means of generating extra revenue.

Reason #1 - it benefits Samsung

I'm going to Australia in 2 weeks. I will buy an iPhone 5S there, if they have them in stock. I will pay AU$629 for the 32GB model, which is £375 at current exchange rates. I therefore save £254 on UK retail price.

Reason #2 - it benefits the carriers

My last roaming bill was nearly £700 (my iPhone decided to synchronise my photostream whilst tethered). Luckily the boss was paying. If I'd done the smart thing and put a local Optus SIM in my phone, I would have paid around £35 for the same amount of data.

Both of these are very good reasons for Samsung to region-lock, irrespective of actual (radio) capability. The decision is driven by profit, not technology.

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Re: at least my unlocked iPad and iPhone works ANYWHERE! @AC

AC do keep up.

The detailed (!!!) specification for this phone on Samsung's various websites is "LTE (800 / 850 / 900 / 1800 / 2100 / 2600MHz) dependent on market support" the websites make no claim that a single phone supports ALL LTE channels and neither does it give any further details about exactly what it does support. Given that no caveat is given for the other mobile network standards, it is probably safe to assume that they mean the phone in different markets/regions supports only a subset of the listed frequencies.

My "30 paragraphs" outlines a technical reason why Samsung may have chosen to limit their phones in the way they have (and why we can expect other manufacturers to also place regional limitations on their phones). However, without further details (like Apple gives about the iPhone 5s see http://www.apple.com/iphone-5s/specs/ ) which would allow owners to determine which model they possess, we are speculating about just what exactly are the capabilities of each regional variant.

Obviously if Samsung are producing a single world phone that does support ALL LTE channels, but is being region locked beyond asking the user to first activate the phone with a SIM from the same region then we should be asking questions. However I doubt this is likely given the state of chipset development and the battery life being seen for LTE mode.

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Re: at least my unlocked iPad and iPhone works ANYWHERE! @Lord Elpuss

I'm not sure that Samsung are actually generating extra revenue from this, unless they are getting a better deal from the network operators...

Reason #1: Buying an iPhone 5s in Australia

You may wish to compare the specification of the UK/EU model (A1457) with the Australian/Asia/Pacific model A1533) . From Apple's specification and an assessment of the LTE channels being used in Australia, it would seem that you stand a good chance of the phone working back in the UK/EU, but going the other way (UK iPhone 5s in Asia/Pacific) could be more problematic depending upon country and network.

Interestingly, back in August, Samsung announced that the S4 and S4 mini were getting 'TDD/FDD Dual Mode LTE', but the Samsung website makes no mention of this feature. But then neither does it make any mention of the regional activation requirement/lock...

Also bear in mind only iPhone 5s's purchased from Apple do not lock to the network of the first SIM used.

As for this being a reason to region lock, I wasn't aware of grey imports being sufficiently high to warrant this, unless Samsung have designs on using region locking to enable them to operate vastly different pricing schemes for effectively the same model and hence create the conditions favourable to grey market expansion.

Reason #2

£700 - you obviously weren't stranded abroad when Eyjafjallajokull erupted in 2010! :)

But yes data roaming is not for the faint hearted and several of my clients would take my hand off if I could provide them with a viable solution that doesn't involve people travelling with a stack of SIMs or paying a stiff premium when using UK data services. I only question whether a frequent traveller actually needs a 4G phone, given the present state of deployment and would be well advised to simply carry an unlocked 3G phone with WiFi (Skype/VoIP)...

Yes inhibiting SIM swapping may benefit the carriers, but they would want the phone to be locked to their network (as per the iPhone 5s) and for Samsung to benefit - the carriers are going to have to hand over some of that revenue to make it worth their while compromising their product...

No I see the current inter-regional SIM swapping situation as a temporary problem that will have largely been resolved in 3~5 years when 4G chipsets are better developed.

So perhaps Samsung have been taking (further) lessons from Apple and are twisting the arms of carriers to gain extra revenue...

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Re: at least my unlocked iPad and iPhone works ANYWHERE! @Lord Elpuss

>I'm not sure why you're defending this

I didn't address this in my previous point. I'm seemingly defending this on technical grounds because I don't subscribe to the conspiracy theories, particularly as there are good and valid technical reasons for having regional variants of a handset, and certainly for the 80's and 90's it was the norm.

Considering what is appearing to be the real issue, the need to use first use a SIM of the same region as the phone. A valid technical explanation is that this permits totally standard firmware and motherboard to be used worldwide, with relatively dumb modules such as radio's being added during assembly. The motherboard uses the initial SIM to provide the information it needs to determine what modules have been included and to set up some defaults such as UI language (from YouTube video's it would seem that an EU phone activated with a UK SIM defaults to an English UI, if a foreign SIM is subsequently inserted the UI remains in English).

The only question mark is why if a out-of-region SIM is first used the phone locks rather than just asks for a valid SIM. A possible, but poor, explanation is that Samsung engineers thought that an incorrect SIM could cause a phone to perform validation actions that could damage it and so the use of an unlock code provides a means to detect such phones if faults subsequently arise.

Obviously, whilst there may be a valid technical explanation, which in some applications would be considered appropriate, this doesn't let Samsung off the hook for how they chose to deal with the issues from a consumer perspective.

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Not just the Note 3

I got an identical sticker on the side of my sim free S4 from Phones4U.

I Thought it was strange at the time, but I never bother with SIM swapping when abroad anyway so it didn't worry me too much

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Re: Not just the Note 3

Thanks for the warnings, looks like I'd be mad to upgrade. Silly, silly Samsung.

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The Walled Garden Effect

The "walled garden" always fails in the end.

Will they never learn?

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Re: The Walled Garden Effect

while I agree with your opposition to closed ecosystems, I'm not so sure your conclusions are accurate. at least in apple's case the walled garden is still quite profitable - as ios loses marketshare to android it's easy to forget that not so long ago apple didn't make phones at all, much less possess the lion's share of the profit in the category.

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Re: The Walled Garden Effect

Apple have 115 billion reasons to dispute your assertion, and if the walled garden somehow ceased to exist at sunrise tomorrow, those 110 billion reasons would still exist.

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This just seems like a backward step as a consumer. Ever since I started buying smartphones 10 years ago, one of the things I've loved about them is their ability to go anywhere, do anything - surely that's the point?

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Note to self...

Remember to ask for a written statement that the phone I buy will work anywhere in the world with any valid SIM in it.

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Re: Note to self...

The answer will be F.Y.R.O.M.: F*ck You, Read Our Manual!

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Re: Note to self... @ Mr Monsters

... and my answer will be "Give me a copy of the manual *before* I buy, or no sale."

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FAIL

Jailbreak time

Time for the hardware hackers to get to work

I Predict that this phone will be jailbroken within the week

this is not a Smart move by Samsung they are going to lose sales by doing this and not just phones

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Re: Jailbreak time

You should not need to.

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Global Village?

Yeah the the world is getting smaller by the day but only when it suits a lot of businesses. Market differentials are basically a way of ripping off consumers,

I won't be buying a Samsung while they use region locking.

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Hey Samsung ...

If it can only be used in Europe, how about you only manufacture it in Europe? Businesses love the benefits of globabization but they seem to think it is ok to prevent us enjoying the same. S4 Active order cancelled.

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Samsung's Footgun moment?

IMHO, this is a totally stupid move. I'd really like to know why they decided to do this. Perhaps they think that Korean's don't travel but given the numbers I've seen in London recently I beg to differ.

Not even Apple wouldn't be so crazy as to do this or would they?

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Headmaster

Re: Korean's

Koreans

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Re: Samsung's Footgun moment? Not sure, but...

Can there be any national security reasons, say, such as the EU wanting to make sure the USA cannot lean on Samsung to bug Europeans' phone, or other countries, after the EU model rolls out? Maybe the US is also leaning on Samsung to "protect" USA travlers? Or, could Samsung be testing waters to see of it can protect Koreans later, after Samsung learns technically from hackers removing the region blocking?

Just curious....

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Anonymous Coward

Oh dear, goodbye Samsung. I like Samsung phones, but this kills it. I can see no reason to cripple unlocked phones. If it is advertised as GSM, and it doesn't work globally, I think trading standards need to get involved.

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Everyone should contact Samsung UK and ask for confirmation, before telling them that you intend to buy elsewhere.

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I WAS going to buy one of them but for me it needs to spend half of its life with an Australian sim in it not bloody likely now.

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This is a hoax, right?

Please supply us with a reply from Sammy should you get one. This certainly is a runner for the top ten of "how to fuck up your brand" premium-bad-ideas(tm).

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Re: This is a hoax, right?

http://sammyhub.com/2013/09/26/european-galaxy-note-3-and-other-samsung-devices-are-now-region-locked/ has an update from Samsung:

"Apparently, it is not region locked as the sticker wants us to believe. According to a new statement given to All About Samsung, an activation in Europe will permanently unlock the device for the user to use in any part of the world."

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Re: This is a hoax, right?

The sticker says otherwise, and, it still means that I can't buy the phone in the UK for a present for someone outside Europe.

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Re: This is a hoax, right? @ Mark .

just had a look at that site. It doesn't say what you think it says. In fact, the statements issued are so badly worded they are almost meaningless, but the gist is that they are region locked, though (I think) the region lock is disabled once a SIM from an EEA country is registered to the phone. It also seems to say that the region lock can be removed at a Samsung approved centre ...

The important bit is that the new phones *are* region locked by Samsung's own admission. Anyone want to buy a new phone that needs a custom ROM out of the box? I doubt I do ...

How long until the press release saying this was all a misunderstanding?

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Re: This is a hoax, right? @ Mark .

It's bad in that there's some kind of locking that would say cause problems if you wanted to import a device from elsewhere. On the other hand, it doesn't seem it would cause a problem for people who wanted to travel and pop a local SIM card in abroad, which is what would cause far bigger problems for most people.

I agree the statements are badly worded, it really needs some concrete evidence to see what is actually going on here.

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Windows

Re: This is a hoax, right?

Buy a phone in Rip-Off Britain, to give as a gift to someone living in a place the purchase would most definitely be cheaper?

Money to burn...

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I didn't realise Samsung had been taken over by Sony

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World is now upside-down

Even Sony has been quietly moving away from region locking.

Sony discourages game publishers from region-locking games released for the PS3, and all Sony TVs sold here in Asia supports the PAL, SECAM and NTSC analog TV systems, as well as both ISDB-T and DVB-T/T2 digital systems.

On the other hand, region locking phones is ridiculous. Just like region-locking the Nintendo 3DS is.

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Or is it a rumour originating with a fruity fone firm ??

If true, they have just alienated a HUGE part of their market, no businessman or regular international traveller is going to buy this phone; I still get hacked off at Dubai for insisting I buy a local SIM card!!!

I bought my current phone because it was Quad band and will work anywhere in the world, if it wont work during my 1-6 month jaunts to the far east, they can (in the words of a Chinese friend), BUGGER OFF!!

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Re: Or is it a rumour originating with a fruity fone firm ??

Maybe you can explain how Apple put these stickers on Samsung boxes.

Or just STFU.

Yes, thats the best idea. Do that.

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Bad sticker wording

There is a line that actually the region locking is ONLY for when the device is first registered. i.e. a euro phone must be registered with a euro sim. After that its region free the idea being to reduce the gray market. If this is the case then it should not be a problem for anyone who wants to swap sims but if it is the case then the person who worded the sticker needs a slap.

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Re: Bad sticker wording

So you can't buy the phone for someone as a present outside Europe. Either way, when I buy a phone I should be able to use it where I like and with whatever SIM I like. Which part of MOBILE phone do Samsung not understand?

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Re: Bad sticker wording

And will the phone still be unlocked after a reset, eg. due to a software update? Well, as a global citizen that moves around a lot, I am not going to take the risk.

At least not as long as there are plenty of "really" unlocked phones around.

I am still remembering my HP 3210a printer I bought in Japan and took to Europe a year later. I made sure to buy only equipment that works with 240 volts, but they got me by putting a country lock on the ink cardrige chip.

My last HP product, too, btw...

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Re: Bad sticker wording

Looks like they are trying to prevent the re-sale of phones sold with a subsidy, or indeed to make it more difficult to ship stolen phones abroad.

Still not a good idea but I can see why they might have wanted to do it.

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I have never taken my phone to another country

And bought a local sim. So far at least, but I would not touch a phone with any region lock crap.

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