iPhone Unlocking Goes Open Source

It was just a couple days ago that Apple announced it had sold more than 1 million iPhones, and iPhoneSimFree went on sale as the only software-only unlocking solution for unhitching the iPhone from AT&T’s mobile network so the device could (with some limitations) be used on any GSM mobile network. Now, there may not be any reason to pay money to unlock the iPhone: a free, open source iPhone unlocking solution dubbed iUnlock has appeared on the Internet from the so-called iPhone Dev team, and the developers are busily wrapping a graphic interface around it for the benefit of users unfamiliar with the cryptic ways of command lines.

Breaking an iPhone loose from the AT&T mobile network doesn’t magically make the iPhone acquire HSDPA or other high-speed wireless data technologies, although the majority of the iPhone’s basic features will function on other operator’s GSM-based mobile networks. One notable exception is the iPhone’s popular Visual Voicemail, which requires server-side support currently only offered by AT&T.

In the United States, T-Mobile operates the only other widespread GSM network; however, unlocked iPhones may have a significant appeal to mobile users outside the United States, where the iPhone is not currently available for sale but, moreoever, GSM networks are far more common.

iUnlock was apparently inspired by examining how the iPhoneSIMFree solution worked: iPhoneSIMFree found a software-based means to reprogram the iPhone’s baseband chip, which had previously been thought unassailable without hardware modifications. Knowing that a baseband-zapping solution was possible, the iUnlock developers apparently developed their own means of doing so, without relying on the iPhoneSIMFree solution. As is typical for many, how shall we say, informal development efforts, the iPhone Dev folks are now tussling over credit for who did what when, and who was authorized to release code, and even floating accusations of code theft.

Needless to say, anyone untethering an iPhone from the AT&T network risks running afoul of Apple: unlocking an iPhone may make it ineligible for future software updates, and it’s possible Apple could update the iPhone software so unlocking solutions no longer function or (worse) unlocked iPhones cease to function. Caveat emptor.

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