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iPhone + Disposable Cellphone + Prepaid Cards + New Activation Tool = Holy Cow

Holy cow. Those guys at fusion.osx86.hu/#iphone are geniuses. Late yesterday, I downloaded a copy of iASign, their new iPhone activation tool. Right now, at this second, my iPhone just made its first call using the SIM from my disposable Cingular phone with its $10 card. After, I dialed *777# and it told me I've got $9.25 left on my account. The phone number in Settings -> Phone shows the proper number for the disposable phone (versus the one I activated with the iPhone PickYourPlan).

Getting this to happen was neither intuitively obvious or completely without roadblocks. To make this happen, I had to put together some basic information including my iPhone's IMEI, the SIM number for the disposable phone, and my Macintosh's private key information. All the steps on how to do this have been put together in an easy-to-follow tutorial over at HackTheiPhone.com.

So what does this mean? It means you can buy an iPhone and activate it using a disposable Cingular SIM. It does not mean that the iPhone has been unlocked in general, but given this step forward, do we really care? I'm still investigating what it will take to add data to the iPhone and whether you can roam internationally. Just to be clear, text messaging does work and only costs $0.05 both to send and receive (shown here), a nice savings compared to the $0.15 I'm paying using the normal iPhone service.

So here's a basic roundup of the facts.

The Hack

What does this hack do? It lets you use the SIM from another Cingular/AT&T phone on your iPhone.

Can I use a SIM from, say, a Blackjack? Presumably.

Or any other non-prepay Cingular/AT&T phone, right? Right. This isn't just a prepay hack.

What about the data plan from the other phone? Does it work as well as the voice plan? Yes. I tested this out using my $10 phone card's MEdia Net. At $0.01/kilobyte, it cost $0.11 to load Google's home page.

What kind of SIM can I use for this hack? I used a SIM from a "disposable" Cingular cell phone. There are suggestions that you can get these SIMs without having to buy a cell phone (mine cost $40 at the AT&T store and included $10 of airtime) at 7-11, but I'm completely unclear on the details.

So does this mean the iPhone is unlocked? No. This allows you to use AT&T and Cingular SIMs only without signing a contract and without having to pay for the relatively expensive PickYourPlans. You may also be able to use this hack with virtual AT&T operators listed here but this is unconfirmed. TracFone and Net10 will probably not work with this hack. Update: MVNO cards on the AT&T network are reporting to be working too (with the same TracFone & Net10 exception). This means you can use corporate AT&T account SIMS. Thanks iZsh!

Can I use my original iPhone SIM in the disposable cell phone? Yes, but why would you want to other than to go skiing or on a trip?

What kind of skills and equipment do I need to perform this hack? Although the tool has been released for both Mac and Windows, I have only tested it on the Mac. For the Mac you have to be comfortable at the command line and willing to open your iPhone SIM tray. Oh yes, you kind of have to be willing to possibly brick your iPhone but that's kind of a given.

Any chance Apple or AT&T will disable this option through future software or firmware updates? It's always possible but the hack looks pretty robust so far. Any experts are welcome to chime in.

Do those farking messages pop up every few minutes? So far? No. But it's early days yet. The only balance messages I have received have been after placing a call or sending and receiving text. I have had no $0.00 transaction messages--probably because I'm not using Unlimited EDGE on this plan.

Features

Can I use EDGE data? Yes. The plan varies by the original phone's plan. If you've got unlimited EDGE on your original phone, you've got it on the iPhone.

But my Blackjack or other equivalent phone does real 3G data. Can I use the iPhone and bypass EDGE? Sorry, haven't tested this yet. Anyone? Anyone? Bueller? (#iphone people say: the iPhone's radio is not capable of working on 3G, has no 3G antenna, and anyway 3G eats batteries like crazy--thanks Speedy, Idle, Spybreak.)

Even on pay as you go prepaid? I dug out my original Customer Service Summary sheet for my disposable phone and it lists included MEdia Net at 1 cent per kilobyte. To test MEdiaNet, I went into Settings and disabled WiFi. I then launched Safari and loaded up the Google.com front page. It worked and cost $0.51, which includes accidently starting to load a picture from another page, frantically canceling that and then loading Google. Just to be sure, I reloaded Google (hit the reload button on the open page) and waited for the next account balance. The second reload of Google cost $0.11. So it's pretty expensive if you use the basic MEdiaNet plan.

You can add MEdiaNet "feature packages" to your PayAsYouGo plan by calling 611 from your iPhone. These include 1MB for $5 and 5MB for $10, not such a great deal compared to the standard iPhone data plans, but not bad for a phone you rarely use. The data you buy can be used for 30 days after purchase and if you add another package within 30 days, the unused portions roll over. You cannot, according to AT&T, add MEdiaMax Unlimited $20 to a pre-pay pay as you go phone.

Summing up the costs: Normal ($0.01/kb) $10 per MB for standard no-package use. $5 per MB if you buy 1MB in advance. $2 per MB if you buy 2MB in advance. There are no further cost breaks beyond $2/MB.

Can I send and receive texts? Yes. You can both send and receive. Mine seem to cost only $0.05 although the lady at the AT&T store said it usually costs $0.15 each. Update: Just checked my Customer Service Summary and it clearly states $0.05 per text. Feature Packages for SMS include 200 additional SMS for $5, 1500 for $15 and 3000 for $20. And there's Multimedia messaging too!

Did you just say Multimedia Messaging? Yes. At 1 cent a KB. As you know, you can send MMS email from an iPhone by using one of the standard addresses listed on this ModMyIPhone page. Receiving is a different matter. I tested MMS by sending an email from my Mac to myphonenumber@mms.mycingular.com. It included a 144kb picture. At this time I'm waiting to see if it arrives. So far a text I sent after the picture has arrived but nothing yet on the picture front. Update: An hour later and still no MMS receipt. Maybe I should try MMS from another phone instead.

What iPhone-specific features are confirmed to work with this hack? None of the non-AT&T built-in iPhone features are affected by this hack. You can still use WiFi. You can still use your camera. You can still write notes and use your calendar. Phone-wise, you can place phone calls and send and receive SMS. If your data plan supports EDGE, you can use it to connect to the Internet.

Does visual voicemail work with this? So I powered off the iPhone and then called it. So far I have not been able to check the voicemail visually. It's all a really annoying interactive thing that has cost about a $1.00 between two calls to the thing. So maybe I'm doing it wrong, maybe there's no visual voicemail, and maybe it's SATAN.

What about YouTube? So far, no luck. You can't use the normal YouTube site (no flash video support) and the YouTube widget doesn't seem to be working--not that I could afford it at $0.01/minute. I'll update this as I find out more.

How much does it cost to email a photo without WiFi? I just sent a couple of photos and it look like it cost about a dollar each. The photos were about 90K in size and snapped on the iPhone.

WiFiNo Change.
Visual VoicemailDoes not work on my Pay-as-You-Go phone. Tapping Voicemail calls the old fashioned voice system.
EDGE/DataWorks according to the plan you are on. If you had unlimited data, you probably still do.
Text messagesSMS works. MMS may work.
EmailWorks over WiFi. Works over EDGE.
Stocks & WeatherWork over WiFi, should work over EDGE.
Non-internet AppsSeem to work fine including camera, iPod, etc.
SyncingWorks.
YouTubeDoes not work. No FLV/Flash support on iPhone. Widget does not work.

International

Any chance this would work with a Rogers SIM card? Probably not. I'm under the impression that this is US only.

Can I get International calling with a prepaid AT&T card? I'm still googling on this one. AT&T does offer International Roaming but I'm unsure whether that's available for prepaid cards. It is available for prepaid PickYourPlans. "Before leaving the U.S. or Canada, please call 1-800-331-0500 or visit a retail store to activate international roaming or international long distance."

Have you tried using any international SIMs from Canada or the UK? Not yet.

Finances

How do you add more money? If you're using a prepaid GoPhone card plan, buy a card and either use the AT&T web site or call the card in and add the money to the phone number's account. You can also visit a store.

What is the cheapest Cingular GoPhone I can buy to make this all happen? For $100 at pretty much any AT&T store, you can buy a $100 card with a free Motorola C139 cell phone included. The $100 card (unlike lower denominations) lasts for a year from activation. There are two different plans available which you must choose from at the time of activation. The two plans are to pay either $0.25/min as a flat rate or $1.00 per day use + $0.10/minute and free calls to other AT&T customer. You do not pay the $1.00/day for days you do not use the phone. The money is deducted from card at use. To add more money, you can do it over the phone, stop in the store or do it online. You can also pick up refill cards at Target and Walmart. Call in the 800 # listed on the card, enter your phone number, it's pin (given at activation) and the card pin.

Are discounted GoPhone refill cards available? According to Google, yes. You can pick up a $25 recharge card for about $23.75 if Google tells the truth.

Related basics

Do I have to activate my iPhone through iTunes? No. You can use one of the several iPhone activation tools to get your iPhone out of the "Please Connect To iTunes" pre-activation stage. After, your iPhone can be used to browse the Web with WiFi and synced to iTunes for content. You can snap photos and use email to send them to friends. You cannot, however, make phone calls without signing up for AT&T service directly through iTunes or by using this hack.

Add any further questions in the comments and I'll try to respond.

Thanks to rdjl27, cinort, Dionisis, & speedyAZ for their help and to Nightwatch and iZsh for geniusness in getting this all to work.



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Hacks iPhone

Holy cow. Those guys at fusion.osx86.hu/#iphone are geniuses. Late yesterday, I downloaded a copy of iASign, their new iPhone activation...