My original iPhone 5 came directly from Virgin Mobile. As such, it's carrier locked.

A few months back, I had what seemed like a hardware issue, and in the process of troubleshooting it, Apple replaced my handset. They brought me a brand new iPhone 5 out of the storage area in the back of the retail store.

Apple does not have a Virgin Mobile "version" of the iPhone. Your options are AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile, Sprint, or no carrier. This means that Apple could not have replaced my iPhone with one that was already locked to Virgin. Additionally, Virgin Mobile has never touched my phone. It went from the Apple Store directly to my pocket.

This indicates to me that the process of carrier locking takes place when you place a Virgin SIM card in the phone and call the company to activate it. Is this correct? Or if I had taken the brand new iPhone from the store and tried to set it up on some other service, would I have found it locked somehow? Does it have to do with restoring my settings from backup?

How does this remote carrier lock work?

  • I'll just add it as a comment because I don't have anything to link that proves it, but virgin mobile is owned by Sprint, and uses the Sprint network. My guess is that the phone is locked to the sprint network.
    – Tyson
    Commented Oct 17, 2014 at 4:11
  • Not an answer, but I'd like to point out that I unlock iPhones through my carrier they only ask me to restore them using iTunes for the unlock to take effect, I'm pretty sure Apple provides carriers with a private API that they can use to control the locking status of phones assuming the IMEI of the phone is registered as being sold by that carrier, so carriers have a way of controlling SIM-locking remotely without access to the device.
    – user56648
    Commented Dec 2, 2014 at 8:43
  • So maybe what happened is that since Apple has your old phone's IMEI they applied the same locking settings to the new phone they gave you, thus preserving any SIM-locking that was configured for the old phone.
    – user56648
    Commented Dec 2, 2014 at 8:44

1 Answer 1


Per Virgin Mobile's Unlocking FAQ (emphasis mine):

What does it mean for my device to be "locked"?

The term "locked" means that either Virgin Mobile software or the manufacturers' device designs restrict the device to use with a carrier operating on Sprint's network, such as Virgin Mobile.

They gave you a Sprint model at the Apple store.

  • The third party SIM I tried to use was indeed not Sprint - it was a T-Mobile piggyback carrier. I'll test with a Sprint or other-Sprint-piggyback SIM and see how it goes.
    – hairboat
    Commented Oct 20, 2014 at 16:37

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