Apple's iPhone 3G: A Carrier Unlock Makes It Usable By Me (And Thee)
Two weeks ago, I told you I’d taken advantage of the eBay deals provided by iPhone 3GS upgraders to pick up some prior-generation Apple handset hardware for use on T-Mobile. The first-generation 8GB iPhone I initially snagged didn’t pan out. Its ‘like new’ claimed condition was contrary to the scuffed chrome trim all the way around its LCD, and its ‘original box’ didn’t contain any of the original accessories, save for the instruction sheet. The missing protective plastic tray enabled the phone to rattle around inside the empty packaging, and in combination with poor external packing by the seller it resulted in numerous scuff marks both on the iPhone’s screen and back side (or maybe they were there prior to shipment…who knows) coupled with unknown functional degradations. It’s headed back to the seller now; PayPal has promised me a full refund upon its return.
Fortunately, my experience with the 8GB iPhone 3G that I also bought off eBay was much better. It was indeed in ‘mint’ condition, and the seller even included the Apple-branded shopping bag he received when he originally bought it! It came already carrier-unlocked via the iPhone Dev Team’s ‘UltraSn0w’ program, and it accepted my T-Mobile SIM with no problem. At first, I couldn’t access any cellular data-based services, such as email or web pages, until I remembered that I needed to enter T-Mobile’s APN (Access Point Name) into the iPhone’s settings.
My research, coupled with a call to T-Mobile’s technical support line (which, believe it or not, answers configuration questions about carrier-unlocked phones like mine) uncovered four possible APNs:
- internet2.voicestream.com, and
T-Mobile tech support suggested that any of the four should work, although they indicated that I should try internet2.voicestream.com. However, if you do a Google search on any of the above APN URLs, combined with the words ‘T-Mobile’ and ‘iPhone’, you’ll see that user experiences have been hit-or-miss, especially with the $7/month T-Zones package (my plan includes the more expensive, albeit more capable $20 Internet Data package).
An initial brief experiment with epc.tmobile.com had been successful, and the Mobileconfig file preset I downloaded for tethering purposes (which works great over both USB and Bluetooth, by the way) switched the APN to wap.voicestream.com. At first, it also seemed to work, but then it started failing…although in retrospect, I think the issue was with T-Mobile’s network, not the APN I was attempting to access. Three main issues:
- T-Mobile’s cellular data network in the Truckee area seems to be flaky on an ongoing basis; I’d also noticed this on my prior T-Mobile Dash
- Lots of folks head up to the Lake Tahoe region for the July 4th weekend, thereby overloading the network. Since each data service connection consume significantly more network resources than a corresponding voice call, all of the carriers tend to prioritize voice traffic in overload situations, and
- I didn’t realize this morning that I’d previously had the data roaming setting on the phone disabled. While this is a good idea when traveling overseas (or, for example, if you live right on the U.S. border with Canada), to avoid excessive data charges, all of the U.S. GSM carriers (to the best of my knowledge) have network-sharing arrangements. But given the original disabled roaming setting, when my phone attempted to connect to an AT&T cell tower, it failed. Enabling the setting has greatly increased my probability of a successful cellular data session (I’ll let you know if there’s a fiscal impact when I get my next bill!).
You might wonder why I’m going through all this trouble, when brand new and official unlocked iPhone 3Gs are available for sale. Well, consider that such devices are currently being sold for $569.99, with Buy.com carrying a 16 GByte version for $799.99. My unit cost me ~$250. Any questions? You might also be wondering if the carrier unlock I accomplished is illegal. It’s not, at least for the next few months, but the details are convoluted. In late 2006, the Library of Congress granted a three-year exemption to the DMCA (Digital Millenium Copyright Act) allowing handset owners to unlock their devices (and to possess software and hardware which accomplishes this objective). However, the distribution of tools that enable unlocking is not granted explicit corresponding protection. As such, and as with CSS- and AACS-circumventing software like SlySoft’s AnyDVD, developers tend to locate outside the U.S. as do their download servers.
Having previously shared with you my fondness for the ‘24′ ringtone, I of course attempted to load it on my iPhone 3G right away. And failed. As it turns out, Apple only wants you to be able to use ringtones you’ve purchased from the iTunes Store (shocking, I know). But a few workarounds exist (again, shocking). I used Ambrosia Software’s $15 iToner, which converted the M4A file to a M4R equivalent and transferred it to the handset via iTunes ‘hooks’. Rogue Amoeba also offers a freeware program called MakeiPhoneRingtone, but since it hasn’t been updated in more than a half year, I’m not sure if it’s still compatible with latest-and-greatest iTunes and iPhone firmware versions.
My iPhone 3G also came to me already jailbroken, a term which indicates its ability to run unsigned applications. Since there are so many free and low-cost programs now available for sale on the App Store, I initially thought I wasn’t going to take advantage of this particular feature. But then I thought of how nice it’d be to capture video, which the official Apple v3 firmware doesn’t support on either the iPhone or iPhone 3G…and I ended up installing both Cycorder and Videorecorder3G. Admittedly, the quality isn’t as good (or the resolution as high) as that delivered by the hardware-accelerated iPhone 3GS, but..
If you’d like to emulate the iPhone 3GS’s voice recognition capabilities, try Vlingo (I haven’t yet). I also put the jailbreak-based still image capture program Snapture on the unit, although it doesn’t seem to use the accelerometer for anti-shake correction purposes (ideas here, readers?). To tweak the iPhone 3G’s UI and other settings, I installed both BossPrefs and WinterBoard. And instead of paying AT&T or TomTom for turn-by-turn GPS software, I went with the freeware (and excellent) xGPS.
Finally, I’m happy to report that the Find My iPhone feature set survived the jailbreaking and carrier unlocking surgery just fine. See for yourself: