How to convince my Kazakh student that her unlocked iPhone will work in Kazakhstan
September 3, 2011 1:30 PM   Subscribe

Do you know anything about Kazakhstan, or how to say "the phone is already unlocked" in Russian? How about using an iPhone in Kazakhstan? Please help me reassure my extremely skeptical Kazakh student that her new, unlocked phone will work at home -- huge bonus points if you can do it in Russian (or Kazakh)!

So, I'm teaching English to this very nice lady from Kazakhstan. On my recommendation, she purchased a used, unlocked, jailbroken iPhone 3G from this place I know in Raleigh. It seems to work pretty well, and I've loaded some free ESL app and podcasts on it for her.

However, someone told her that iPhones won't work in Kazakhstan unless she pays someone ~$200 to have it "modified" or "changed" (I forget the exact English word she used). I'm pretty sure she means something like "unlocked", but who knows what the word is in Russian. Probably most people buy locked iPhones and don't discover this until they arrive in Kazakhstan, where few people can unlock them, but my limited experience doesn't let me convince her of this.

She won't believe me that it will work in Kazakhstan, and really, why should she? I can't know 100% that it will work in Kazakhstan. Maybe the transceiver will have to be replaced; maybe there's some secret code; maybe there's a new frequency that no other country has -- all unlikely, and I did, in fact, try to verify that the frequency band(s) used in Kazakhstan would work with this phone.

We even tried calling the store; the nice, but slightly annoyed, person we talked to (and they are pretty smart/educated at that store) assured me about 15 times that it would work in Kazakhstan, that it was unlocked, etc. She was Asian, but not Kazakh, so again, why should my student believe her?

I'm a techie, somewhat (you mean everyone isn't teaching English with iPhone apps?), she's a sociologist who grew up in the Soviet era. Her $$ is pretty tight, and I think she worries a lot.

Can anyone help?
posted by amtho to Technology (18 answers total)
Google translate has it as

телефон уже разблокирована

It'll even pronounce it for you if you need help with that. Of course, knowing google translate that probably also means something like 'i will rob you now'.
posted by jourman2 at 1:44 PM on September 3, 2011

Can you direct her to the website of mobile carriers in Kazakhstan, which should have a Russian and/or Kazakh language FAQ addressing her questions. Here is wikipedia's list of Kazakh mobile carriers. If her family/friends use one of the carriers listed, then perhaps she could follow up with that specific carrier and ask questions about using the iPhone with a new Kazakh SIM card, if she actually wants to make calls on it in Kazakhstan.

As far as personal experience, a friend of my father's married a Russian woman who grew up in Kazakhstan, and I helped her unlock her quadband phone for use in Kazakhstan when she went home, and she didn't report any problems afterwards. Her phone wasn't an iPhone, however, just a simple GSM flip phone.
posted by that possible maker of pork sausages at 1:57 PM on September 3, 2011

Please don't rely on automatic translation when you're trying to persuade another human being of something.

I could write a short paragraph in Russian, summarizing your assurances that the phone is unblocked, will work, and needs no additional servicing in order to function in Kazakhstan or elsewhere… but the long and the short of it is this. Many people of a certain age living in the countries of the former USSR believe that everyone is out to screw them and that you can only get reliable service "under the table." You're pitting the word of a salesman against the word of a shady dude in the alleyway, and she's a hundred times more inclined to believe the shady dude.

Ultimately, the proof of the pudding is in the eating. If the phone arrives in Kazakhstan and works reliably, then ipso facto she doesn't need to pay anyone to service it.
posted by Nomyte at 1:59 PM on September 3, 2011 [1 favorite]

This seems like a non-issue if she just tries the phone in Khazakstan before paying anyone to do anything to it.
posted by Sys Rq at 2:00 PM on September 3, 2011 [1 favorite]

My friend (who is from Soviet era Russia) reminds me that :

if there was anything that we were (and are) good at, it's making things work without tech support. He adds for your houseguest:

телефон будет работать в казахстане - все что можно разблокировать, все разблокировано. Можно будет зацепить за любого GSM оператора.

больше ничего менять не нужно. В любом случае, наши умельцы с этим разберуться во много раз быстрее местных

Which in English is roughly: The phone will work in Kazakhstan. Anything that can be unlocked has been unlocked. You can attach it to any GSM operator. Our craftsman will figure it out much faster than the Americans.
posted by bilabial at 2:03 PM on September 3, 2011 [4 favorites]

Sorry, "unlocked" rather than "unblocked." jourman2's Russian "the phone, she is unblocked" confused me for a minute.
posted by Nomyte at 2:05 PM on September 3, 2011

Is it a Verizon or ATT iPhone? It needs to be ATT and on GSM not CDMA.

As long as it is GSM and unlocked, she'll be able to get a SIM with a data plan - probably Beeline is the cheapest in KZ.
posted by k8t at 3:56 PM on September 3, 2011

I can't help with the immediate question, but if it's an iPhone 4 she got, bear in mind that it takes an uncommon micro SIM card that might be thin on the ground in Kazakhstan. You can buy tools for cutting down standard SIMs to micro SIMs.
posted by adamrice at 4:02 PM on September 3, 2011 [1 favorite]

You can buy tools for cutting down standard SIMs to micro SIMs.

You don't even need special tools. It can be done with a printed template and a razor blade.
posted by qxntpqbbbqxl at 6:18 PM on September 3, 2011

- It's an iPhone 3

- She's concerned because if the phone won't work in Kazakhstan, or if she'd have to pay someone in Kazakhstan ~$200, she'd rather return or sell the phone here in the US before she goes home to Kazakhstan.

- She's currently a visiting scholar in Durham, but she doesn't have much $$, so she originally wanted to buy a very inexpensive phone (ideally, that would work in Kazakhstan, but she was persuaded that an iPhone was a safe bet)

- It's a GSM phone, currently working with an H2O SIM card (not on AT&T).

- Thank you, bilabial! (by the way, you might want to fix the link to your Amazon wishlist). This is somewhat reassuring, although she knows already that iPhones can be made to work. I hope to convince her that it's all ready to go, so that she won't have to pay someone in Kazakhstan (or Russia) to unlock it. I'll try working with the Russian a little to find if we're talking about the same "something" being done to the phone, though.
posted by amtho at 6:22 PM on September 3, 2011

Fwiw, as someone who spends a lot of time in that neck of the woods...

If she is portraying to you that she is concerned that it won't work in KZ, it may be a cover for a general concern that she can't afford the phone overall or she knows how much the data costs back home.

Don't force her to keep it.
posted by k8t at 11:33 PM on September 3, 2011 [3 favorites]

Of course I can't and wouldn't force her to keep it (although the store won't take it back since it's not defective -- this is a very small, unique enterprise). She never planned to use a data plan... that she might just need the $$ back occurred to me, but as far as I can tell the catalyzing event for this change of heart was someone telling her that it would cost ~$200 in Kazakhstan (in addition to the $230 she paid for the phone) to get an iPhone "modified" so that it would work in Kazakhstan.
posted by amtho at 12:34 AM on September 4, 2011

Also - she never planned to get a data plan (and doesn't have one now; though she does have WiFi access at home and at her office).
posted by amtho at 12:35 AM on September 4, 2011

Give her the $200 when she leaves-- if you can afford it.
posted by vitabellosi at 4:28 AM on September 4, 2011

$200 when she already owns a computer? My bet is that she doesn't want the iPhone for financial reasons.
posted by k8t at 5:09 AM on September 4, 2011

Yes, but if she actually *won't* have to pay that, because the phone's already unlocked, then it would be a shame for her to give up what can be a very valuable tool for her.
Between the free quiz apps and the easy English podcasts, it can turn a lot of transit time into awesome, un-stressful learning time. And it's extremely unlikely that she'd find a better deal on an unlocked iPhone anywhere.

I think she's already spent all the money she'd need to. I'm just looking for acceptable proof so that she can relax.
posted by amtho at 11:35 AM on September 4, 2011

Yeah, even $200 on an iPhone is probably more than she has. As I said, based on my years of working in the region, I'd put good money on the fact that she doesn't want to pay $200 for an unlocked iPhone and merely wants the cheapest phone possible that is required of her while she is in the U.S. Quizzes and podcasts are cool, but if not absolutely required to get by, are beyond her.
posted by k8t at 12:05 PM on September 4, 2011

I'm sorry I wasn't clear: she already bought the phone, two weeks ago. She's been using it. She's heard somewhere, I think incorrectly, that she'll have to pay _an additional fee to a technician_ in order for it to work in November when she goes back home to Kazakhstan. I'm pretty sure this isn't the case, and that she won't need to spend another penny for a working phone for years.
posted by amtho at 10:21 PM on September 4, 2011

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