15 n00b FAQs About iPhone Unlocking

So the 3G iPhone unlocking software release, due out on New Year’s Eve, is being talked about on the Internet. 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.

…sounds bad ass but um HUH? – seemed like the general consensus cuz I got A LOT of people asking me to explain. Don’t lie, your IMs, texts, and e-mails prove it.

Though fret not, even some geek friends have asked me privately via Twitter DMs, e-mail, and Facebook messages what this crap is all about. So you’re not totally technologically idiotic.

Well – since I am an asshole, have no patience, and sure as heck am not going to respond to every e-mail, IM, DM, etc., etc., I consolidated the 15 most frequently asked questions here. Kinda like my Christmas gift to you guys? And if you don’t have an iPhone – well you’re assed the EF out. This is the only thing I’m giving this season. ;)

Any which way, here we go!

1. What is unlocking?
AT&T and Apple signed an agreement that Apple will only distribute the iPhone to AT&T in the U.S. 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 you guys. Don’t bitch at me if I link you here instead of answering your questions. At least I’m not responding with “Google it” GO ME.

And Happy Holidays, y’all.
(image via here adapted from my nicer post on LG’s blog here)