Recently, reports of Samsung region locking the Note 3 came out via Clove UK, which posted on its blog that the Note 3 would be completely unable to use a SIM card from a carrier outside of the region, and would not ship any Note 3 devices with a region lock outside of Europe.

Of course, while unprecedented in the smartphone industry, this sort of business has been happening for a very long time in the automobile industry, which has effectively banned grey importing to the US. While that isn't common knowledge, some may know that the Skyline GT-R is effectively banned from the US, which is a direct result of a ban on grey imports. The reason for all of this was a push by Mercedes-Benz USA to protect its dealer network and its own margins. In short, the story behind all of this is that grey imports were cutting into profit margins, as importers could easily take advantage of fluctuating exchange rates, and when all was said and done, going through an importer could net thousands of dollars in savings, all of which was effectively taken from the OEM. As a result, MBUSA and a coalition of other OEMs successful lobbied Congress to pass laws that made grey importing effectively impossible, which completely killed that industry.

While there are other possible justifications for region locking devices, looking to the past, it is evident that this move is done for similar reasons, albeit implemented at the software levels rather than enforced by law. While at first such a move threatened to have severe blowback due to the lockout of foreign SIMs for those traveling outside of the region intended for use, Samsung moved quickly to quell such fears, stating that the lock would only be for initial activation and that any region locked device would be able to be unlocked by a regional service center, however it seems that based upon multiple user reports, unlocked devices in certain regions have been completely locked out from using foreign SIMs. Recent information suggests that this lock is also shipping on many other unlocked devices that we're manufactured after July 2013, and such locks may arrive via OTA update for some devices. Due to their enormous marketshare and mindshare, Samsung is best placed to execute such a strategy, and stands to greatly increase margins from this move.

Even though Samsung is the first to do this in the smartphone industry, it is hard to say that such a move would not be pushed by other OEMs, as all would stand to profit from such region locking. While the automotive industry achieved this through legislation, it seems that smartphone OEMs are well-positioned to implement such features in software. While initial SIM locks would be easily bypassed by resellers, forcing the need to acquire an unlock code from a service center in the correct region would be extremely effective at killing grey market imports in the smartphone market, especially if the lock flag were in a partition with signature checks enforced like many carrier locks. It remains to be seen, however, whether the smartphone OEM would move in such a direction. While the automobile industry is nothing to be emulated, it is possible that the smartphone industry will follow in its footsteps.

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  • RussianSensation - Wednesday, October 9, 2013 - link

    Great job for actually doing your research. The author of the article failed to mention that if you buy the Samsung phone in its original region and put in a local SIM card, then it becomes automatically unlocked. In many countries, if you are buying a smartphone in your local country, you may already have a SIM card, which makes it a moot point as your phone will be unlocked in minutes. Otherwise, if you plan on importing the phone, you can just buy a cheap SIM card from a local carrier.

    Next time, please do more due diligence before publishing an article:

    Update: Samsung's official Swiss Facebook account has stepped in with some information regarding the locking issue. According to the official source, a European SIM-locked Galaxy Note 3 could be used outside of Europe (thus become unlocked) as long as you activate it with a European SIM card first. Nothing to see here then - move along people.
  • teiglin - Monday, October 7, 2013 - link

    90% of smartphones released in the last three years have had quadband UMTS making them work on AT&T's and Europe's 3G networks. If you only need quadband GSM, you can increase that to 99% of all smartphones since at least the original iPhone (I didn't really pay attention to any of this stuff before that) and include T-Mobile in the US.

    What I find really appalling is not the practice in and of itself; the writer is obviously correct in that it is thoroughly unsurprising; rather, it's the fact that they can sell you an "unlocked" smartphone which is not at all unlocked. They at a bare minimum need to change the descriptors they sell under--an "unlocked" EMEA Note 3 is actually a region-locked Note 3.

    I do hope European consumers vote with their wallets and take care of this shit, but if they're like US consumers, they never will because they just get their phone from their operators and probably don't even know what a region or SIM lock is (if they even know what a SIM card is).
  • danjw - Monday, October 7, 2013 - link

    So, you live in the EU and visit the US, you can't bring this phone with you and just get a SIM card? Is the reverse true, as well?
  • Sushisamurai - Monday, October 7, 2013 - link

    Yes, that is correct, if I'm understanding this article correctly. To clarify, before, phones were carrier locked, meaning, if you bought the phone via AT&T, you could not use said phone with Verizon. Later, as people understandably enjoy travelling and using their phones while travelling, have learned to use 'unlocked' phones, so that they are free to use whatever carrier they want when they were travelling, or when they wanted to switch providers. The issue at hand now is region locking - you can freely switch carriers in that region, but you cannot switch carriers outside of your country (for example, might not be limited to country, but say UK/EU, asia, north america etc)
  • RussianSensation - Wednesday, October 9, 2013 - link

    No, that is not correct. If you already own the Samsung Note 3 and used it in Europe, the minute you put any European SIM card, it becomes automatically unlocked and can be used with a GSM carrier like AT&T.
  • CZroe - Monday, October 7, 2013 - link

    Not even a mention of how this blocks an owner's use of a properly obtained non-imported device while traveling abroad? That has nothing to do with blocking imports.

    It's one thing to say that, as a US citizen, I can't buy a Kawasaki EX250H motorcycle from Canada (USA continued getting EX250F until both were replaced with the EX250J) but it's another thing entirely to say that a Candian's Canadian model legitimately purchased in Canada can't use it to visit his family member in California.

    This region lock should only block sales, not use. Blocking use outside of the region for a device specifically sold for use between regions (it only affects unlocked phones) is MADNESS.

    Originally Samsung claimed that activating with a SIM from the correct region would remove the region lock and allow for ANY SIM. Unfortunately, there is still a blacklist that will block many SIMs. If any region lock were removed in the first place, it's of limited use. If it freed up a UK phone for use in the US, for example, it doesn't help if you needed to go to HK (HK is still blocked).

    There is a ton of misinformation out there on both sides of the issue, but I want to also point out that it doesn't affect locked or formerly-locked phones because the IMEI unlock also removes the region lock. It's technically illegal here in the US but several unlocking sites including a prominent one in Russia have shown this to be the case (100% success rate). Looking at Samsung's website, the US models are all carrier locked (no N900 or N9005 model like on the UK website). There is no sticker indicating a region lock but, even if they were, it would be removed in the IMEI unlocking process. An unlocked T-Mobile or AT&T Note 3 would no longer be carrier-locked OR region locked. While there are region-locked phones for use in "the Americas," they are models that are not officially sold in the USA.
  • Daniel Egger - Monday, October 7, 2013 - link

    Just curious: What is preventing you from driving your Canadian Kawa to California?
  • cheinonen - Monday, October 7, 2013 - link

    That's the point of the article. SIM locking a phone to only SIMs from the original area of sale is equivalent to not letting him drive in bike, purchased legally in Canada as it's a Canadian model, to the US, because it isn't intended for sale there. He's not selling it there, he just wants to ride it there while on a trip.
  • Mr.Prayer - Monday, October 7, 2013 - link

    I was seriously thinking about upgrading my SGS2 for Note3. And i can say for sure, i'm not considering buying samsung devices at all now. I won't be pushed to overspend $200 only because i live in Russia.

    PS: About OTA updates. One day this spring my friend asked me to help him with a problem on his SGS2 (bought 2 years ago at Clove or Handtek, SIM Unlocked). His phone asked him to enter SIM unlock password. He still was on 2.x firmware and i tried to flash all kinds of different firmwares (including latest leaks) without any luck. I was able to unlock only with some app i found on XDA (probably Galaxy S2 SIM Unlock by Chainfire). I never got to what was the reason of that. May be some kind of AB-test from samsung. Who knows...
  • deathgod - Monday, October 7, 2013 - link

    This is really stupid. What about those of us that have to rely on sites like amazon to purchase phones because they aren't sold where we live? Sucks to be us I guess....

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