What Is Unlocking?

By , Feb 23, 2010

Unlocking is an extremely easy concept to explain, sort of . Unless stated otherwise, cell phones purchased from carrier retail stores are “locked” to that specific carrier. For instance, a Blackberry storm from Verizon won’t work on an AT&T calling plan. The Sprint Palm Pre won’t work on T-mobile. Even your iPhone from AT&T is “locked” to that infamous blue-mapped carrier.

So what do you do if you want to purchase a phone you like but use it with a different carrier, perhaps one that costs less or gets better reception in your area? For most folks I’d say ” eh fa-gettaboutit ! ” (in a pretty sweet Brooklyn/Italian accent might I add). But for those of you lucky enough to have apples on the back of your phones, there are ways to relieve your beloved iPhone from AT&T’s struggling network.

Hardware Unlock Vs. Software Unlock

Technically, there are 2 ways to go about unlocking your iPhone. There is a hardware unlock, which is invasive (you have to open the phone), that I don’t recommend that anyone tries unless they’ve got a pretty extensive background in some kind of electrical engineering.

The 2nd, much easier way, the software unlock, could be done on your lunch break by your 6th grader. Just like jailbreaking, this can be as easy as hooking your iPhone up to the computer and clicking ‘start’. However the requirements for unlocking and the rules you must follow are very different.

Things to Consider Before Unlocking

There are guidelines to follow when thinking about unlocking your iPhone.

First off you need to make sure that the carrier you are wishing to go to supports the iPhones technology. I’ll save everyone here stateside some time and just let the cat out of the bag. If you unlock, really your best option is T-Mobile, the other major wireless GSM carrier. Other, smaller CDMA carriers (any centennial wireless users out here??) have had users confirm the unlock to work, but chances are if your reading an article on unlocking, they are referring to T-Mobile (at least here in the states).

Secondly, you need to know your firmware version and modem firmware version (or baseband as its often referred to). This is easily discovered by popping into your iPhone settings and opening the ‘about’ window. Now if you can’t seem to find it, I’m scared for you, but I’m here for you, I’ve provided some pictures below to help you out.

These 2 things are important to know, as they determine whether you can unlock your iPhone or not. If you are even thinking of jailbreaking or unlocking, best practice is to stay away from updating your iTunes or iPhone software, as the war between the Dev Team and Apple rages on, each new update could disable or prevent future unlocks.

I always check http://blog.iphone-dev.org/ to see the latest unlock available. As you can see right now, they have one working for firmware version 3.1.3 and baseband 05.11, but if you have updated your iPhone recently and have the 05.12 baseband, you’re out of luck for the time being. An unlock is in the works but the ETA field is empty so, don’t hold your breath.

Finally if you meet the above requirements and are ready to unlock, you must first jailbreak. Now as you can see from all the hyperlinks in this article, I wrote an article on jailbreaking, and I know Sebastien’s got great tutorials in the blog’s ‘tutorials‘ section, so if you haven’t done that, check that stuff out, meet me back here in 5.

Who Comes Up With Unlocks?

The last part of our segment today on unlocking is software, pioneered by the great Dev Team and the prodigy kid from New Jersey GeoHot. GeoHot, who recently announced hacking the PS3, actually received media attention for his iPhone unlock and was given a new Nissan 350z by the co founder of Certicell, not bad eh.

But the backbone of the jailbreak/unlock community, the Dev Team, have been the steady frontrunners ever since. Their software QuickPwn, RedSn0w, and PwnageTool have been staples in the iPhone hacking community for years.

Generally when you’re using these programs to jailbreak they ask you if you’d like to unlock in one of the steps it takes you through. Here lately though, 1 task programs like UltraSnow have been relevant, also done by the Dev Team, also available in our downloads section.

Conclusion

Well that’s unlocking in 10 minutes or less, the key really is what version your firmware/modem firmware you’re running, and understanding there’s no unlock for 3.1.3 firmware if you have 05.12 modem firmware (baseband).

The model of your iPhone matters as well, whether it is the iPhone 3G , 3GS, or original version. Model compatibility for any unlock software is generally noted in the description of the download. And if I haven’t completely crushed your dreams yet, there’s no way to downgrade your baseband (let us know if you get Fuzzyband to work, we hear the bootloader’s to high). What am I talking about bootloaders, basebands, you guys should probably get out of here before things get really crazy.

Make sure to hit us up with any questions or comments.

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  • Tom

    Great article, but I was wondering if you unlock your phone, can you still use your iTunes account to sync and purchase new media as long as you do not update the firmware?

  • Carlos

    iTunes account works fine 

  • kingfish

    Yeah, I got an older iPhone for free that I did not want to activate as a phone. I unlocked it and it works perfectly with iTunes. I basically have an iPod touch at no costs.

    • Mark oconnor

      hi kingfish,

      I have been given a first gen iphone and want to turn it into a ipod. i don’t have a sim card. can i still unlock it witout a sim card?

      Mark

  • Polemicist

    @Cody Lee nice one… Now tell me more about the Hardware unlock…

    @Tom – Software unlocking changes very little with the way you would normally use your iPhone. You can download apps purchase music and make phone calls as per normal. It just opens a world of brand new things you can do.

    Please note that if you are using an iPhone 3GS you will want to read the first screen on Cydia carefully. Very useful tips.

  • http://www.chikanozboy.com Raj

    i wonder if i jailbreak my iphone, can i revert back to its original just in case i want to?

    • Mathew

      Yes, just restore it in Itunes.

  • Cody Lee

    @ Polemicist Hardware unlock requires pulling the back off your iPhone, doing some complicated soldering, wire cutting, stuff like that. Here are GeoHot’s step by step instructions for his hardware unlock. Kind of historic to see the date on the article and see all those comments from all those pioneering iPhone unlockers. http://iphonejtag.blogspot.com/2007/08/step-2.html

    @Raj You can always do a complete restore through iTunes that resets the phone back to factory settings. I tend to restore back to factory settings and then re-jailbreak, if my iPhone is acting up or running sluggish.

    • Stink

      Its blocked… Another link plz

    • http://www.riorules.com/vanishing Godi

      I went to the link (http://iphonejtag.blogspot.com/2007/08/step-2.html) but, it won’t let me in, even if I signed in (my google account). The message was that I was not invited by the blogger.

  • Spazbite33

    keep up the good work iphone blog

  • DavidHead

    So is there any way i can down grade my baseband so it can be unlocked.? when you have bootloader 5.9

  • T-Mizzle

    OK so if I unlock my iPhone, I can switch to Verizon? I haven’t done the jailbreak or unlock yet… kinda nervous about doing that. I’m trying to learn the advantages of it, and I need to find out the disadvantages, too, if there are any.

    Another thing, I just upgraded to this iPhone, which means I’m locked into another 2 year contract with AT&T…

  • Carter

    Hey guys need help. So I download blackra1n on my 3g on the 3.1.2 os. But when I use sn0w and put my tmobile card in…I get nothing. I restored 3.1.2 twice and can’t figure it out. Any ideas?

  • doug bledsoe

    i switched to straight talk and have an apple phone. can i use this with my new service? is there a way and if so how

    • Unnamedplayer

      U do realize that this WHOLE ARTICLE is on unlocking right

  • wayne

    I bought a brand new iPhone 3gs from ebay. When I got my iPhone, I checked the iPhone device setting which says that software of my iPhone hase version 4.0.2, exactly same as Itunes(version 10) shows. But after I use tinyUmberrella saved SHSH of my iPhone and displayed it, I got diferent result “iPhone 3GS 4.1(8B117)-ECID.

    Any clue?

  • Kunal Kalra

    i have an iphone 4g with AT&T contract bought from US…. can i used it in india with our normal service provider…. any one knows how can i unlock my iphone 4….. i m in big trouble…….tottly confuse plz help me

  • Rjb

    I have an iPhone 4 with firmware 4.1 and baseband 02.10.04. It is locked to AT&T and I want to unlock it to use here in the UK. Can I unlock it?

  • ZQ Xu

    I travel overseas (mostly in Asia) 9 months a year. The other 3 months I live in US. So I have a pay-as-you-go AT&T service while in US. I have been thinking about buying the iphone 4 but unlocked. The main reason why I want an unlocked iphone is to use it overseas. Cellular phone service carriers (SIM) from other countries, especially in Asia, are so much cheaper than in US (I can call US and talk for hours and cost maybe US$4 or $5!!). My questions are:

    1. If I jailbreak and unlock my iphone 4, can I easily use it with foreign GSM network SIM cards?
    2. When I return to US, do I have to restore my settings to use my AT&T pay-as-you-go service, or do I just pop in the AT&T SIM card as I would do for other foreign SIM cards?
    3. If I have an unlocked iphone 4, does it mean that I cannot do any updates?
    4. Based on the reason why I want an unlocked iphone, the only way for me to get one is to buy an already unlocked iphone through any of the many websites that sell one. Is that right? The other way is to buy an iphone with contract and then jailbreak it to use it overseas….but that way, I still am responsible for the monthly contract charges, right?
    THANK YOU very much. Great article!

    • 3aloo1

      bla bla bla

  • Sheldon Cooper

    My iphone 3g (jailbroken & unlocked) is currenty running on IOS 4.1 and the baseband version is 06.15.00, if I update it to 4.2.1 through itunes, will i be able to unlock and jailbreak it again.. plz reply fast.. thanks in advance!!

  • nick

    I currently have a at&t phone and just recieved a free iphone. i already jailbroke but will i be able to use my old at&t sim card on the iphone without having to buy the internet plan

  • ansh

    I updated my 3g phone to 4.2.1 through itunes, will i be able to unlock and jailbreak it again..

  • loui

    i have my i phone 3g 4.2.1 jailbrocken but it still does not work wit t-mobil please help thank you

  • jacque

    i have the same problem as above i have a 3gs jailbroken but still does not work with tmobile please help

  • amer

    Hey, ive got the iphone 4, and its locked, and i can only make emergency calls, therefore i cant see the firmware version, can you help.

    Im trying to unlock it from vodofone, to O2!

    • chai

      Amer. I got the same problem you need to go to ATT or Verizon they will activate for you in a minute you can’t do it at home.

  • Ines

    Hi, I’m from Belgium and the iphones (4) cost 700 euros (990$) and I would like to buy one in America, since it is less expensive. But I just want to be sure that I could use it in Belgium with a Belgian provider (and will my sim card fit in?) Thank you very much for the response :)

  • KAM

    i have the iphone 4 verson 4.3.5 and and firmwre 04.10.01 will this work with it.. and it was through att and i am wanting to go through tmobile. thank you

  • Mathew

    So, if I unlock an AT&T Iphone to, T-Mobile, for example, do I then pay the T-Mobile plan’s prices? Or do I pay the AT&T plan’s prices still, but I’m now on T-Mobile coverage?

  • michael

    how can i unlock my iphone 3gs 4.3.5 05.16.02

    • http://www.facebook.com/fffmedina Frank Medina

      please somebody answer this question

  • manna

    hw to unlock iphone 4s

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Aprido-Sandyasa/555253669 Aprido Sandyasa

    Hello,
    I have Iphone 3G and i had unlocked with UltraSn0w and jailbreak with iOS 4.1.
    It works perfectly fine, before i jailbreak and unlocked, my iPhone becomes a brick and almost becoming sold out (or useless).
    Thanks to DevTeam, my Iphone now works perfectly fine.
    I wonder iPhone 3G could carrier CDMA carrier??

    Once again, a big Thanks for Dev Team and everyone in this site

  • http://twitter.com/euwashere Eugenio Álvarez

    i’ve found an I phone on the street and send it to the police at lost and found……..days passed by and they called me to pick it up……it’s locked and probably foreign. anybody know how to unlock it??

  • http://www.facebook.com/mido.basha.2010 Mohamed A. Hemdan

    I have an iPhone 4 with version 4.3.3 and baseband 04.10.01. I unlocked it using gevey, can i upgrade the version to 5.0.1?

  • http://twitter.com/vavemiracle Edwin Alain Vasquez

    im happy with my network, but still you guys recommend unlocking my iphone ?

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Angela-Noriega/706919826 Angela Noriega

    My problem is that I bought an iphone from a friend and when I put my current Sim card in the iphone it says I need a Sim that has no pin lock. What do I do with that?

  • Christian Wentworth

    do you still have to pay your phone bill

  • http://www.facebook.com/gregory.renault.77 Gregory Renault

    Hey when will they have a unlock for firmware 04.12.01 Version 5.1.1

    • http://www.facebook.com/nerissa.borromeoreyes Nerissa Borromeo-reyes

      i have the same problem, did you find solution already? thanks

  • Anonymous

    I have an Apple IPhone with the following:
    Version: 5.1.1 (9B208)
    Carrier : KT 12.0
    Model : MC603KH
    Modem Firmware : 04.12.01
    Serial Number : 66110M8TA4S

    MY QUESTION IS CAN THIS PHONE BE JAILBROKEN AND UNLOCKED?
    I’m now living in Portugal and require use of the IPhone as now it is completly useless.

  • Marina Armstrong

    So I have an I phone 4, version 5.1.1(9B206)-modem firmware 3.0.04.
    It is currently flashed to cricket.
    –> I was wondering if now that cricket is coming out with the iPhone if I could unflash it, and just unlock it to cricket service?

  • http://www.facebook.com/razugrg Gurung Razu Nepali

    My iPhone 3gs can’t restore and got the error message 29…Serial number: 860173CY3NR
    Name: iPhone 3GS
    ModelCode: iphone_3gs
    Model Number: MB717
    Group1: iPhone
    Group2:
    Generation: 3
    Machine Model: iPhone2,1
    Model introduced: 2009
    Production year: 2010
    Production week: 17 (April)
    Production number: 3908 (within this week)
    CPU speed: 620MHz
    Family name: A1303
    Screen size: 3.5 inch
    Screen resolution: 480×320 pixels
    Colour: Black
    Capacity: 32GB
    Factory: 86 (China)

  • needinghelp

    im stock in lock screen when i starting to use paperlock while Im using android lockscreen xt. what should i do?

  • ishmael

    how do i unlock an iphone 4s analog type

  • Geo58

    My iPhone has been unlocked so I can’t update my iOS . Can I get it locked again to go back to original carrier so I can update my iOS in future?

  • Noorulhaq

    Hi my iPhone 4s is jailbreaked but factory locked can I unlock permanently
    S Version. (5.0.1)9a406

    Modem firmware is. ( 1.0.14)

  • Helen

    Hi, new to all this – I’ve just got a 3GS which has been updated to 6.0.1, and it won’t activate (won’t read sim card). I suspect that I need to jailbreak and unlock it (used to be on O2, I use t-mobile), but since I can’t activate it I can’t get into it to find the baseband version, so am not sure what to do next.

    Any advice would be much appreciated!

  • pallat

    Nice shaing

  • http://www.facebook.com/djbillgates Vincent Djbillgates Taylor

    have any1 ever activate a foreign iPhone on a US carrier?

  • MIKE MIKES

    Factory unlock any att iPhone at MIKTECH COMPUTER SERVICES ONLY FOR $10

  • gerard jansen

    I have another problem. I can not get that far. The phone first wants to be activated which I can not do anymore. After a complete reset I can choose the language, the region, the wlan at home and than the Iphone tries to activate himself I believe on the apple server and than it stops. I called apple and they said everything is Ok. The phone is on my name and it is not stolen but still it does not work. What can I do more?

  • Ivan Šimić

    Does this works with iphone 5 as well? I mean unlocking?

  • miclmr

    Hello!
    I’ve purchased on ebay an iPhone 4S AT&T.
    It shows me:
    On iTunes:
    There is no SIM card installed in the iPhone you are attempting to activate.
    Please disconnect and insert a SIM card in the iPhone.
    On iPhone:
    No Sim Card Installed
    Insert a valid SIM with no PIN lock to activate iPhone.
    Sim Required
    Please insert a SIM card.
    Try Again.
    I even don’t know what is a modem and iOS versions.
    How can I determine them
    Please tell me whether is it possible to activate it via iTunes without jailbreak?
    Thank you.