How to: Unlocking an iPhone 3G with broken wi-fi

This is not so much a political post, or a post about information, as a victory cry from the hutongs of Dongcheng, Beijing.

I love my iPhone, but I don’t love the fact that it is programmed only to work with AT&T—or “locked.” This is not for the normal reasons: Honestly, AT&T’s service has been more or less fine for me. This is probably because I used it mostly in Boston and Colorado; trips to New York proved frustrating at times.

My reason to hate locked phones is that I regularly leave the United States. Here I am for the second summer in a row in Beijing, using China Mobile’s prepaid Shenzhouxing service, and Apple doesn’t want me to be allowed to use my iPhone. Luckily I have my old HTC Touch when I’m in a bind, but I like my iPhone, and I paid for it. I’m even still paying for AT&T, because they eliminated the option of suspending service.

Last summer, I followed the directions from the “Dev-Team,” and unlocking for use in China was no sweat. This summer, I have a phone that has lost its ability to use wi-fi, a hardware problem Apple claims cannot be fixed. That’s fine when I have 3G, but wi-fi is needed for step two of the jailbreak-unlock process.

After much nonsense, here’s how I got around this problem.

  1. My iPhone 3G used to have software version 3.1.3, which is hard to jailbreak. Jailbreaking being compulsory for an unlock, I upgraded to the new software 4.0.
  2. The redsn0w team has released a beta of its jailbreaking software that works for iPhone 3G on software 4.0. I used this.
  3. The jailbreak now complete, I needed to find a way to put ultrasn0w, a package that unlocks the phone and allows it to use any carrier, on the phone. Unfortunately, the standard way to do this is to use the Cydia application repository and download ultrasn0w using wi-fi.
  4. Eventually I found the raw files for ultrasn0w’s most recent version, and instructions to download and install into a directory on the iPhone’s jailbroken file system. Those files go in the iPhone’s private/var/root/Media/Cydia/AutoInstall directory, which I had to create.
  5. To install these files, I first tried iPhone Explorer, but the Mac version of the software (irritatingly!) lacks the ability to put files in ALL directories, thus the target /private/var/root was off limits. Therefore, I turned to PhoneView, which mercifully has a seven-day demo period and accesses root. I connected the phone and dragged and dropped the two ultrasn0w files.
  6. I put in the China Mobile SIM, shut down the phone, and when it woke back up I was in business.

This probably took six or eight hours to figure out over a week, so I wanted to contribute my mini-success story. Hope this helps people before it becomes totally out of date.

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2 Responses to “How to: Unlocking an iPhone 3G with broken wi-fi”

  1. unlock 3G 4.0 with broken wi-fi: manual ultrasn0w install? - Hackint0sh Says:

    [...] of the threads on here that discuss this process. I was finally able to piece some things together. I describe it in a blog post. The main process Jailbreak with redsn0w beta download ultrasn0w 0.9.3 files from another thread [...]

  2. Ray Says:

    Thanks, I used iExplorer for the PC.. the unlock didn’t actually work (for me) but Ultrasnow was installed, thanks