Easiest way to use a US iPhone 4 in the UK?
December 12, 2010 8:48 AM   Subscribe

I'm studying abroad in London next semester, and I'd like to use my iPhone 4 while I'm there. I need some help figuring out how to jailbreak and unlock my phone, and what UK plan to use when I get there.

I've had an iPhone since 2007, but I've never jailbroken my phone or had any urge to do so. All I want is to replicate the experience I have with my phone now, just in England. I'm completely happy with my phone in its current virginal state, and I have zero desire to install a bunch of crazy apps or change its appearance or whatever. I just want to use it on a UK network, keep all of my current apps, and restore it when I'm back in the US.

I've seen this question, but that person has a 3G and it seems like the jailbreaking situation for each model, firmware version and baseband version (???) is different, so I need some help navigating the various options.

My iPhone has firmware 4.1 and baseband version 2.10.04, which leads me here on the site linked in the previous question. There are like four different jailbreaking options on that page, though, and I can't figure out which one will definitely let me unlock. I also don't know the best way to unlock my phone once it's jailbroken.

As for the plan when I'm in the UK, I've found 3's iPhone 4 SIM-only plans, which seem like they offer what I want. I've never used a pay-as-you-go system before, though, so I could use some help figuring out how they work and what the potential pitfalls are. I'm not a huge data user or texter, but I definitely want both capabilities when I'm abroad. I've used, on average, less than 50 MBs of mobile data a month across the lifetime of my phone, so I'd rather not pay for a GB of data a month.

So, tl;dr: I need basic, step-by-step instructions for unlocking my iPhone 4 with the least disruption possible to my current setup. I also need some advice on getting a pay-as-you-go plan working on my iPhone in the UK.
posted by MadamM to Technology (6 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I can't advise on jailbreaking, but as for a pay as you go deal, there are tons of sim only options going, and I think the best thing you can do is go to an independent phone retailer and tell them what you want to use the phone for in terms of texts/minutes/data per month and get them to recommend a plan.

Off the top of my head I can think of Phones For U and Carphone Warehouse. There is not a town in Britain that doesn't have one or 'tother of those two.
posted by dougrayrankin at 9:55 AM on December 12, 2010

Pretty sure you need more than Jailbreaking. I think you need Jailbreaking first, then Untethering (aka unlocking). Last time I looked, untethering wasn't working on all the operating systems out there.

You've almost certainly got one of the later, less unlockable basebands. It can be done, but you may need to download one of the earlier .ipsw files and install that -- and that's a lot more complex than a straightforward jailbreak. So much so that I've never bothered to try it myself.

For the systems that it does work on, you just jailbreak, which IIRC, automatically installs Cydia. Then you can download ultrasn0w via Cydia which accomplishes the untethering/unlocking.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 10:11 AM on December 12, 2010

Yes, jailbreaking is distinct from unlocking. You need to jailbreak first because it allows you install the unlocking app on your iPhone. Unfortunately for you, hackers still haven't crashed baseband 2.10.04 and created an unlock yet. There's an small, active community dedicated to doing so that probably will (they have all the other times). There are not doubt many others waiting just like you are. You can keep up with the latest news by googling "unlock 2.10.04". Until then you're out of luck. (Also, even if it does come out, there's no guarantee the unlock won't make your phone slow and glitchy or simply fail halfway through the unlocking process).
posted by dontjumplarry at 11:45 AM on December 12, 2010

Assuming that you can jailbreak and unlock your phone, you may still have difficulties with that 3 option. The rolling 30-day contracts will require a credit check which you'll fail if you haven't lived here before.

Your best option is probably to get a GiffGaff SIM. It's prepay so no credit check and it'll work out cheaper. They have "Goody Bags" where you apply a certain amount of your credit to calls, texts and internet but at 10 pounds you get unlimited internet which is great.
GiffGaff is a subsidiary of O2 which is one of the huge networks in the UK, the others being Vodafone and Orange/T-Mobile. So it's not going to disappear in a hurry like some of the other smaller Virtual Operators.

In order to get signed up, you need to get a SIM card and activate online. This requires adding at least 10 pounds credit. This can be bought at many newsagents which are everywhere and you can pay cash which means no requirement for a UK bank account. The shops that sell the credit are part of the PayZone, Epay or Paypoint networks. What happens is that the merchants gets a terminal that they need to scroll through to find the vendor who's credit you want to buy. They probably haven't heard of GiffGaff but if they scroll through then they'll find it. More info on the Giffgaff site.

My recently-arrived SO has been using GiffGaff very happily (with their current free internet offer) for a few months. If you like, MefiMail me your postal address and I'll pop a SIM card in the post so you can buy the topup as soon as you arrive.

(As an aside, all the networks have similar 30-day SIM-only options and they like to charge 5-10 pounds more for an iPhone package. Personally I don't use visual voicemail and have had no problems getting a standard internet package for my 3GS, despite what the salespeople will tell you.)

posted by quiet at 5:51 PM on December 12, 2010

The only concern I have with GiffGaff is that their best bundle (the £10 one) is called a special offer and has an expiry date. Although they've been running this one for quite a while (under a different reason for offering it) the pessimist in me says that it'll probably end at some point - at which you'll be forced to go onto the £15 per month one to keep unlimited internet.

I would avoid Vodafone and Orange as their data allowances are downright stingy. I would also avoid 3 as they have terrible customer services and everyone I know who is with them cannot wait to get rid of them.

Another one to look at is Tesco Mobile who offer a pre-pay SIM and one which is pay monthly (but only has a 1 month contract). The pre-pay one was extremely good value which is why it appears to no longer exist (a shame) but their rolling 1 month contract one gives you unlimited texts, 500MB internet and 250 minutes for £10 per month. It is a 50:50 venture with the UK's largest mobile operator (O2) and the UK's largest supermarket (Tesco) - so you won't have any problems.

If you don't want visual voicemail, then buy yourself a micro-SIM cutter and then a standard "full size" SIM. Since the iPhone 4 tariffs are generally about £5 per month more, you can easily recoup the savings after only a couple of months.

Finally, worth noting that if you go into Carphone Warehouse or Phones 4 U then you will only get offered the standard big 4 pre-pay tariffs and will invariably be pushed towards the one they get the biggest commission on. All the best deals are on the web.
posted by mr_silver at 9:51 AM on December 13, 2010

unable to advise regarding the jailbreaking part of your question, but I'd recommend having a look at a very useful site called Ken's Tech Tips. See, for example, http://cow.neondragon.net/index.php/t-mobile-offering-500mb-internet-for-3-33month-uks-cheapest-payg-internet-tariff
posted by davemack at 1:17 PM on December 13, 2010

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