Breaking AT& T link makes phone usable in Europe
George Hotz of Glen Rock, N.J., in his bedroom workspace where he was able to bypass the AT&T-only restriction on the iPhone. (Carmine Galasso/The Record via Associated Press)
NEW YORK -- The last summer before college is full of possibilities. George Hotz, a slight, curly-haired teenager in Glen Rock, N.J., spent it taking on two of the largest corporations in the US technology industry, and winning.
Along with a secretive group of online collaborators, Hotz broke the restrictions that make Apple Inc.'s iPhone, arguably the hottest gadget of the year, work only on AT&T Inc.'s cellular network.
The feat took him 500 hours, or about 8 hours a day since the iPhone's June 29 launch. The equipment used included a soldering iron and a large supply of Red Bull energy drinks.
In a phone interview yesterday, Hotz said he was using the unlocked iPhone on T-Mobile's network, the only major US carrier apart from AT&T that is compatible with the iPhone.
While the possibility of switching from AT&T to T-Mobile may not be a major development for US consumers, it opens up the iPhone for use on the networks of overseas carriers.
"That's the big thing," said Hotz, who heads to college today.
The phone, which combines an innovative touch-screen interface with the media-playing abilities of the iPod, is sold only in the United States. Apple has said it plans to introduce the phone in Europe this year, but it hasn't set a date or identified carriers.
An AT&T Inc. spokesman and an Apple spokeswoman said their companies had no comment. Hotz said the companies had not been in touch with him.
The hack, which Hotz posted Thursday to his blog, is complicated and requires skill with both soldering and software. Missteps may result in the iPhone becoming useless, Hotz warned. It takes him about two hours to perform.
Since the details are public, it seems likely that a small industry may spring up to buy US iPhones, unlock them, and send them overseas. "That's exactly, like, what I don't want," Hotz said. "I don't want people making money off this."
He said he wished he could make the instructions simpler, so users could modify the phones themselves.
"But that's the simplest I could make them," Hotz said.
Technology blog Engadget yesterday reported successfully unlocking an iPhone using a different method that required no tinkering with the hardware.
The iPhone has already been made to work on overseas networks using a third method, which involves copying information from the Subscriber Identity Module, a small card with a chip that identifies a subscriber to the cellphone network