If smartphone unlocking is technically illegal, it sure is easy

Trying to move an iPhone over to a no-contract carrier opened up some interesting doors


Another iPhone finds out it's not welcome in new network lands.

Photo via meddygarnet/Flickr.

Previously, on Escape from Contractville, our protagonist told us that he was going to try to set himself and his wife up with smartphones, on a decent data network, with a cheaper pay-as-you-go plan. The results?

After a few days, a few delicate scissor cuts, and some coverage map checking referenced against friends' recommendations, my wife and I are (or are very soon to be) paying $90 a month for unlimited talk, text, and web use, on pretty decent speeds. I'm almost happy. Almost.

Sounds like there was still something in the way. Actually, there were three things in the way. One was a security question, which, due to a misunderstanding with a representative, turn out not to be a Verizon stalling tactic, but a question I had set up with Straight Talk and forgotten.

Another issue was discovering that iPhones will prevent you from editing the cellular connection settings (technically the Access Point Name, or APN) if a carrier does not allow it (certain Android phones may do this, too, but I haven't seen it so far). Without correct APN settings, you can't connect to data services or MMS (multimedia text messages or, more simply, picture attachments). That is a problem.

On the gently used iPhone 5 I was working to get connected to Straight Talk's service, which piggy-backs on AT&T, APN settings were, in fact, disabled. There are ways around it, like with all phone things. There is a well-known site, Unlockit, that creates APN "profiles" that, once opened in Safari, are recognized by the phone and available for installation. And if Unlockit doesn't have the right data carrier for your phone, you can install the APN manually with Apple's iPhone Configuration Utility (typically used by IT administrators deploying numerous iPhones to employees).

There was also a very hack-ity method of plugging a T-Mobile SIM card into the iPhone, yanking it out, and trying to get back into the Settings before the APN configuration options disappear. You can look that up if you feel like your phone setup process needs more of a secret agent feel, and your marriage requires more strange looks and very late nights up alone.

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