December 22, 2008

15 Things About Unlocking the 3G iPhone You May Be Afraid to Ask

By Mona Nomura of Pixel Bits (FriendFeed/Twitter)

A lot of us mobile geeks have been talking about the 3G iPhone unlocking software release, due out on New Year's Eve. Yesterday, the Dev-Team released a demo video of said software, 'yellowsn0w', working its magic by effortlessly switching the 3G iPhone from AT&T's network to T-mobile's, and actually made a call.

...well this information sounds great but it confused a lot of my friends that have iPhones. You see, most of my offline friends are non-geeks, but keep up with iPhone-related news. So when they heard about the unlocking, they sent inquiring IMs, SMSs, and e-mails. Even peers asked me privately via Twitter DMs, e-mail, and Facebook messages to explain in detail, and understandably so. There are times I am scared to openly ask questions, in fear of being ripped apart by someone who knows more than me. There are also jerks who are intentionally rude to others online. Those people make me think twice before asking questions aloud. Even if this is the Internet, it is offensive when people are outright mean.

So if you have no idea what this unlocking stuff is, don't worry. You are definitely not alone. As much as I keep up with mobile industry news, I still learn something new everyday. That said, instead of responding to every email, IM, DM, etc., etc., I consolidated the 15 most frequently asked questions here:

1. What is unlocking?
AT&T and Apple signed an agreement that Apple will only distribute the iPhone to AT&T in the US. So even if the iPhone uses a SIM card, it can only be used with AT&T's SIM, hence the phone is locked. Dev-Team's software, unlocks the phone and that is why the video shows the phone making a phone call on T-mobile's network.

2. Is the unlocking software offered by Apple?
Despite their misleading name, Dev-Team is not affiliated with Apple.

3. What do I need to do in order to unlock the iPhone?
After purchasing an iPhone, you will need to Jailbreak it. Jailbreaking = hacking.

4. I don't know anything about Jailbreaking, help?
MacRumor's user forums is a good place to start, and of course Google. (Don't worry, the link will take you to the search results, not Google's start page.)

5. Is it illegal?
I am not qualified to give definitive answer about legalities. I would contact a lawyer (if you are really concerned) and/or read the iPhone's EULA (End User License Agreement) online or download the PDF (Pay close attention to section two, "Permitted License Uses and Restrictions")

What I can say for sure is this.

Apple has the iPhone's firmware protected by the Copryight Right act and finding ways to get around using it (circumventing) is violating a DMCA (Digital Millennium Copyright Act) code. However, the Copyright Office issues exemptions once every three years and for now, unlocking phones for the "sole purpose of lawfully connecting to a wireless telephone communication network" is legal as long as you own the phone. Source 1, 2, 3, and 4. Whether Apple or AT&T decides to sue you or not is a different story. Also, keep in mind using Apple's apps without paying for them (Google Maps, Weather, for example) is piracy, therefore illegal.

6. Will I get in trouble with AT&T?
The 3G iPhone is $599 and $699, retail. The $199 and $299 is a discounted price with a two year AT&T contract. If you purchase the phone with the discounted pricing and Jailbreak it, you will violate AT&T's T&Cs.

7. Will I be arrested if I get caught violating AT&T's T&Cs?
Not that I know of. But you may be banned for an Apple store for life. But I can try putting you under citizen's arrest if you insist. (kidding)

8. Can I use it on Sprint, Verizon, Alltel, Nextel, et al.?
No. The iPhone works on GSM. The only two GSM (non prepaid) networks are AT&T and T-mobile.

9. Will this mess up my phone?
Apple and AT&T do not support Jailbroken/Unlocked phones. If you encounter an issue, they will not help you. It also voids the warranty. If you are comfortable with tweaking your phone and problem solving potential issues, then Jailbreak and unlock away!

10. So I am going to unlock my phone, now what?
After Jailbreaking, you need cell phone service. If you choose T-mobile, simple swap the SIM like Musclenerd did in the video.

11. Which plan do I choose?
I know a few people with Jailbroken iPhones on the T-mobile network. They have a voice plan with either a BlackBerry or Sidekick data plan. Again, this is at your own risk. Personally, I would go to a T-mobile store and ask a sales associate. For pricing, please go to T-mobile's site here.

12. I signed up for AT&T in July and only five months into my two year contract. What are my options?
If you want to use your phone on a different network, you would need to break your contract or keep paying your AT&T bill, while using another GSM provider.

13. Why would I want to Jailbreak my phone?
You would be freed from AT&T. If you travel internationally, you can use a prepaid SIM, instead of paying AT&T the outrageous roaming rates. Plus, you will have a Jailbroken phone, so you can install applications that aren't from the iTunes App Store.

14. Cons?
You are stuck with AT&T. You are no longer protected by Apple. Any help you need, would be from the Jailbreaking Community. And your phone will not work on T-mobile's 3G's network, since AT&T and T-mobile are on different frequencies. Meaning, you paid for a 3G iPhone that will not be running on a 3G network. That is, assuming they (Dev-Team) came up with a way to force the iPhone to change its frequency to 1700MHZ (T-mobile's frequency).

15. If I Jailbreak, do I have to leave AT&T?
You don't have to, but remember, if you have a problem with your phone do not bring it into the store because it is in violation of the T&Cs.

And there you have it. 15 of the most asked questions from my loved ones. I love them so much, instead of responding to the emails, texts, and IMs, I will direct them here.

So, are you going to Jailbreak and unlock your iPhone? Is yours Jailbroken? Looking forward to your feedback, inquiring minds want to know!
(image via here)

Read more by Mona Nomura at Pixel Bits