How the First iPhone Unlock Went Down [UPDATED]

Click to viewThe first free iPhone unlock software has been sold and successfully installed today by Mr Paul Taylor, from the UK. Giz was there as an exclusive witness, but when things went very wrong—and the process failed repeatedly giving a "baseband communication error"— I jumped in to help. After some troubleshooting we identified the problem—and I am afraid that it could mean that the software unlock may not work with all SIM configurations. [Updated Sept. 11, 02:52AM EST: iPhone Sim Free has issued an application update to fix the problem we discovered during unlocking. Jump to see their statement.]

Nobody has told you this yet, but as I discovered, not everyone would be able to apply the iPhone Sim Free patch to unlock the iPhone. The key seems to be in the SIM card's PIN. If you can disable it, everything seems okay to go. But if you can't, it looks like you should have to forget about the iPhone Sim Free software for now. [UPDATED BELOW]

As I was able to see today, the customer experience to unlock an iPhone is not pretty. In fact, it could be absolutely awful because most final users don't know anything about SSH, SFTP or the Terminal. If you already have your iPhone jailbreaked using a software like iFuntastic for Mac (current version doesn't work with iTunes 7.4) or iBrickr for Windows, installing the application will be a breeze: just drag and drop it inside the Applications folder inside your iPhone.

However, starting at 3:25 p.m. EDT I watched as Sasha Vatoff, from the Australian iPhone Sim Free reseller, tried to guide customers Paul Taylor and Philipp Meier through the whole installation process. They were going to be the first customers ever to unlock the iPhone. No journalists, just normal consumers. So early in the game, I had to jump in to help them install the software because iFuntastic wouldn't work with Phil's iTunes 7.4 and Paul's iFuntastic didn't work at all. That required going through installing SSH and moving the iPhone Sim Free app using Secure FTP.

All looked okay, but when the application was finally in the iPhone, both Paul and Phil tried the unlock and it failed. "Baseband communication error," the iPhone spat everytime. They restored their iPhones a couple of times because it simply didn't work, and the thin iPhone Sim Free "documentation" recommended a full iTunes restore after a baseband communication error.

Around 7 p.m. EDT the situation was absolutely desperate. Sasha, the reseller, was lost at this point. The poor guy didn't know what to do next, and the iPhone Sim Free people told him they "weren't going to publish further information." Basically, they said they released the software but the "support" was the reseller's responsibility, which makes sense. However, Sasha was expecting more support from them. Instead, all he got was a call from a VoIP line with terrible sound, every two words being lost in cyberspace.

Without knowing what to do, he kept asking me for opinions. What to do? Should I send the program to my customers right away and let them figure it out? People were getting nervous. My only answer was to try it: "Send it to your clients and see if anyone has more luck that these two."

Still, I was refusing to believe that it didn't work so I asked him if he wanted me to try it.

It worked.

After a few minutes, I had my iPhone unlocked. I couldn't understand why. Jason didn't have any problems, just like me. There had to be something else. And then, as if The Steve appeared from the heavens to illuminate me: Boom! There it was, a revelation: I asked Jason if he had a PIN when he tried the unlock. "No, I don't think I had" he said.

It was a good shot:

MSN conversation with Paul and Sasha
[Timestamps are in Madrid GMT+1 time, so this starts at 7:40:22 PM EST]

Jesus says: (1:40:22 AM)

dude

Jesus says: (1:40:28 AM)

does your sim card have a pin? (at the same time, I was asking Phil the same and he said "yes")

Paul (r) says: (1:40:32 AM)

yes

Jesus says: (1:40:36 AM)

take it off

Paul (r) says: (1:41:12 AM)

anything is worth a try

Jesus says: (1:41:21 AM)

Phil has a pin lock too

Jesus says: (1:41:24 AM)

I don't

Jesus says: (1:41:26 AM)

maybe that's the trick

Paul (r) says: (1:42:45 AM)

here goes nothing

Jesus says: (1:44:06 AM)

have you deactivated the pin?

Paul (r) says: (1:44:13 AM)

yep

Paul (r) says: (1:44:31 AM)

ran IPSF

Paul (r) says: (1:44:39 AM)

it said already unlocked (no error this time)

Paul (r) says: (1:44:45 AM)

now back at front screen

Paul (r) says: (1:45:06 AM)

"incorrect SIM connect to iTunes to activate"

Paul (r) says: (1:45:09 AM)

and no service

Paul (r) says: (1:45:35 AM)

Hold on a second...

Paul (r) says: (1:45:41 AM)

When I press the phone button

Paul (r) says: (1:45:43 AM)

and go to my contacts

Paul (r) says: (1:45:49 AM)

My number shows up at the top

Jesus says: (1:45:55 AM)

dude

Jesus says: (1:45:57 AM)

stop it

Jesus says: (1:46:10 AM)

you have to finish the process

Jesus says: (1:46:14 AM)

go to independence

Jesus says: (1:46:20 AM)

and activate again

Paul (r) says: (1:46:20 AM)

what process

Jesus says: (1:46:28 AM)

you have to activate

Jesus says: (1:46:33 AM)

like if it was AT&T

Jesus says: (1:46:38 AM)

but with the new sim

Sasha says: (1:47:14 AM)

so

Paul (r) says: (1:47:17 AM)

ok

Sasha says: (1:47:19 AM)

it works

Paul (r) says: (1:47:39 AM)

not yet

Paul (r) says: (1:47:45 AM)

have gone into independence

Paul (r) says: (1:47:52 AM)

activation suceeded

Paul (r) says: (1:47:57 AM)

rebooting

Paul (r) says: (1:48:20 AM)

incorrect sim please connect to itunes to reactivate phone

Jesus says: (1:48:29 AM)

activate with independence

Jesus says: (1:48:53 AM)

put pem file

Paul (r) says: (1:50:19 AM)

we're back to failed activation

Jesus says: (1:50:29 AM)

quit independence

Jesus says: (1:50:33 AM)

then put PEM file

Jesus says: (1:50:39 AM)

then activate

Paul (r) says: (1:51:09 AM)

IT FUCKING WORKED


Jesus says: (1:51:14 AM)

yep

After a few words of thanks from Paul and Sasha—the first ecstatic about his newly unlocked iPhone and the latter obviously breathing again after almost collapsing from a heart attack—Paul did a test call and everything was fine. The photo above is his phone, working on the Virgin network in the UK.

So as you can see, the secret is pretty easy: before unlocking the iPhone, you must disable the PIN in the SIM card using another phone.

The problem now is that some SIM cards don't have the option to disable the PIN security. This was the case of Phil, whose German SIM's security can't be disabled. Now he has to wait for an update that may come sooner or later. Or may not come at all. There may be another solution, but at the time of this writing, we couldn't work out what these may be.

Right now we still don't know what are the technical problems that this may pose for the iPhone Sim Free people (at the moment of this writing, we still haven't heard from them but we expect to have official word soon).

Until that fix comes, the iPhone Sim Free software solution works, but only for certain people. Those whose SIM cards can have a "disabled PIN." In other words: For now, the only universal solutions are still the TurboSIM solution, which doesn't break your warranty or the hardware unlock.

[UPDATE: If you were thinking about participating in our iPhone Sim Free license give-away contest, make sure to check to see if your SIM card doesn't have obligatory PIN security.]

[Updated Sept. 11, 02:52 a.m. EDT: iPod Sim Free has issued an application update to fix the problem we discovered during unlocking. Good to see they react so quickly.]

iPhone Sim Free Statement
It has been brought to our attention mainly through this article [the article you are reading now] that there was a small bug in our code. This bug has now been resolved we will be forwarding the new simfree.app to all our currently registered resellers. All new resellers will automatically receive the updated version. We would like to take this opportunity to thank Mr. Jesus Diaz for discovering this bug and reporting it through his site. As well as apologize to the select few who encountered this problem.

The bug has been confirmed to be related to whether or not the SIM card is pin locked or not, it has now been resolved. AND OUR SOLUTION IS UNIVERSAL.

Further to this, we will be updating our simple tutorial, to include the following:

IMPORTANT !

PLEASE ENSURE YOUR PHONE IS FULLY CHARGED AND YOUR "Auto-Lock" SETTING (in Settings/General) is set to NEVER for the duration of the unlock process. You may change it back once the application is finished.