iPhone unlock: it’s real, and it’s here August 23, 2007Posted by reverseengineer in Hacks, Hardware, iPhone, Security, Telecommunications.
It’s real – the iPhone Unlock works, and is becoming widespread here in Mac-A-DoodleLand, the Philippines.
I’ve always hesitated to write about these iPhone unlock stories because they’ve always been remote and distant from me, like they happen on another planet and I just hear the stories third hand from space travelers passing through and try to pass them on to the people here on Earth. These SuperSIM techniques from Europe or the United States exist somewhere so far away they might as well be myths and legends to the poor iPhone-deprived in Asia.
This afternoon, I get a call from an old friend who happened to be one of the very first here to own an iPhone (a silly prospect because in the Philippines, it’s just a glorified iPod). Early on in the game he somehow got most of the non-telecom features to run, but in reality he just owns the world’s fanciest and most expensive 4gb digital music player.
So today he calls me and goes, “How does my voice sound?” I go, “What?” and he says, “Does it sound clear? Clear as a bell?”
I said, “What? …nooooo-o.”
And so began the first call I’ve received from an iPhone – on a local Globe Telecom Platinum account. And my first direct experience that it’s real, that it can be done. And has been, several times over, already.
My friend had it unlocked by someone using the SIM card reader/writer trick with downloaded software and Silvercards, which are those credit cards embedded with a blank, writable SIM chip and isn’t really die-cut and meant to pop out for use in a cell phone. (You need to carefully trim off the excess credit card plastic with a pair of sharp scissors or a box cutter into the distinctive shape of a cellphone SIM before you can use the chip.)
The hardware hack works by copying info off the original (local) SIM chip, then modify it with the software by adding codes that make the phone think it’s an AT&T account being used, while in reality it’s a local account. Then it’s all copied onto a Silvercard, or some blank chipped card like those used for hotel keys or electronic payment. (It’s kinda-sorta like SIM spoofing.)
The someone who did the deed for my friend has done it for a least a half dozen people already (all of whom I know, incidentally), and can do it for you too if you pony up for the expenses – around PHP5500 (slightly over US$100) per unlock, including the materials. (Ironically, he does it on a Windows PC, not a Mac.)
It’s spreading like wildfire too. My other friends are ordering units from the US and are lining up to have the unlocking done.
It’s not exactly a service, but I can see a lucrative business waiting somewhere in the wings, if not for this guy, for some other unscrupulous folk – at least until a better option comes along, or if the European iPhone will be released unlocked later this year as rumors claim.
A few caveats though: no visual voicemail (or course not, silly), and no YouTube (which was available pre-unlock, oddly enough). Otherwise, it’s good to go, and no one’s the wiser. Not Apple, not AT&T, not the local carriers (who don’t really care – they get the business anyway.)
Apparently Globe accounts are recreated quite easily, as are Sun Cellular numbers, but Smart accounts seem nearly impossible to fake (hats off to Smart). The original AT&T SIMs aren’t even needed, just the other carrier SIM so they can be copied. Older accounts seem easier to copy too. Post- or pre-paid, it doesn’t matter.
But it isn’t all roses. One curious flaw is that Caller ID is erratic. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t – seemingly because the iPhone requires a complete and precise format of numbers for the Caller ID to work. The local implementation of this seems to be very poor as far as Globe is concerned, since some numbers carry the full prefix (+63915xxxxxxx) while some just need a leading zero instead (0915xxxxxxx).
Additionally, my friend didn’t seem to have any trouble applying the updates to his iPhone even after his faux activation. So, there’s really nothing holding the hordes back now; I fully expect to see more working iPhones here in the coming week. And elsewhere in the world, I suppose.
So the local carriers win with even more airtime used (hey, you gotta show off, right?), Apple wins because more people will buy the damn thing now, and as expected, the big loser is still AT&T, who’s once again massively SOL, and whose SOLness will now increase exponentially with each day that passes.