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.
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.