Unlocking the iPhone Without the Soldering Iron?

By Brad Stone

George Hotz, a New Jersey teenager, got most of the attention last week for hacking the iPhone, but at least one other group claims to have come up with a way of liberating Apple’s popular gadget from AT&T’s wireless network. A group calling itself iPhoneSimFree, which first demonstrated its technique to Engadget’s editor, Ryan Block, said it could unlock the iPhone without any changes to the iPhone hardware itself. If it works, the solution could potentially be more broadly accessible to people who want to use their iPhones on GSM networks other than AT&T’s.
On Friday, a member of iPhoneSimFree, who gave his name as Jim, answered some of our questions over e-mail:
Q: Why do you want to be able to unlock the iPhone from AT&T? A: A lot of our staff are foreign to the USA, and obviously “techies.” The iphone is something that we all wanted and had our hearts set on from the minute is was announced. However, owning a neat, over-priced, video ipod with inadequate memory capacity that could run Safari was not exactly our definition of what a phone should be. Further to that, there have been many articles about the problems associated with provider-locked phones, such as ridiculous roaming charges, poor coverage issues, limited contract options as well as forcing people to switch from existing contracts they may have.
Q: How do you think Apple will react?A: We have been debating this question and our answer is that we don’t know.
Q: Why maintain your anonymity? A: We chose to remain anonymous from early on, simply as a way to protect our individual privacy.
Q: How did you work together on this? A: Working across continents and time zones is always difficult, especially when dealing with individual skills. There were times when we had hardware on one side of the world with coders working on it through the net on the other side. The internet helps to facilitate a global virtual workshop. It was difficult, but through persistence and teamwork we managed to achieve a pretty remarkable goal.
Q: Is your solution superior to others that are out there — like George Hotz’ hardware hack and the TurboSIM card?A: George Hotz’s work was amazing, especially all his well-documented findings. We can also say that it aided with our work and we would like to give him credit for that. However, his solution is limited due to its complicated hardware requirements. The turbo sim solution is not really an unlock solution. Its an expensive alternative which involves cutting a sim card as well as using software on your phone to get it working.
Q: Can regular people use the SimFree technique? A: Our goal is to provide an end product as simple and effortless to use as the Iphone itself. It is our experience that most consumers appreciate a quick and easy way to use their products and we worked hard to make this happen.
Q: How broadly can this be used?A: We believe that there is a real need and immense demand for this solution globally.
Q: How much do you plan to charge for the use of your unlocking software?A: Currently we are working hard to structure the end retail price as low as possible while leaving enough margin for distributors and wholesalers. If we find this formula unsuitable we will simply work backwards and peg the retail price as low as possible to ensure that it is a viable and affordable option for anybody wanting to free their Iphone.
NYTimes c 2007

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