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Published by Simon Schoeters

Unlocking a French iPhone

The iPhone… probably the most hyped gadget of 2007. In Belgium we have a law called ‘koppelverkoop’ that prohibits the sale of mobile phones tied to a contract. In itself this is a good practice but it also means we won't see the iPhone here any time soon. When Orange announced they would sell an unlocked iPhone in France it was too difficult not to drive over there. As there may be other Belgian, Dutch, Swiss, Spanish... European people interested in how things worked out it seemed best to write down a few importing things to know before you head over there. So how to get an unlocked iPhone legally (with 1.1.2 and a European power plug)?

Activate

First you'll need an Orange store “close” to you as you'll have to return to the same store once again after you bought the phone.

Take your ID with you and some credit card as it may be difficult to get one with cash, they'll make a copy of your ID as well.

In the store ask for an iPhone (or ‘terminal’ as the French call it) with a ‘Mobicarte’, Orange's pre-payed card. You'll need a French address to register with Orange, well, we don't have one. Luckily the people in Lille were kind enough to use the store address to register our account. Pay €650 (yes, it's way too expensive, I know) and you should get your iPhone with a French SIM card.

Don't forget to buy an extra Mobicarte from €100 (you'll get €50 extra for free) as this is how you have to pay the unlock fee. That's it, you can go home now.

Activate the iPhone with iTunes. I had to create a new iTunes account with a French address to get through the activation steps. Once done you have a working iPhone! Only one problem though, every phone call to your friends will be an extremely expensive international call.

Official unlock

Call 722 (in France) or +33607626464 (international), press 9 (speak with someone) and ask the operator for an iPhone unlock. You'll need your French phone number (as verification?). Orange will now send a letter to your address with the ‘unlock code’. They won't send the letter to an address outside of France and your registered address is the store where you bought the phone so that's where your letter will be.

The letter was disappointing. Turns there is no ‘unlock code’ but only a few steps you need to take to unlock your phone. Here is a translation of the letter from Orange:

  1. Enter you Orange SIM card in the iPhone.
  2. Connect your phone with your internet connected computer.
  3. The iTunes screen will open (if not, go to http://www.apple.com/fr/itunes/).
  4. Click on the ‘Restore’ button: the message ‘Do you want to keep your iPhone parameters?’ shows up, click the ‘Save’ button.
  5. The message ‘Congratulations, your iPhone has now been unlocked’ shows up.
  6. Click on the ‘Finish’ button.

Well, I tried this numerous times without success. iTunes restores your phone, no unlock message whatsoever. I called the French Orange and Apple helpdesk but they all told completely different things. This is where the official unlocking process stops, in the end we didn't need this letter at all.

Unofficial unlock

The following is something a friend of mine found out and so far it seems to work. We tried this procedure 3 times with 3 different French iPhones with exactly the same results.

The trick is to restore your iPhone with you own SIM card, not the new Orange one. Insert you own SIM card in the phone (we all used the Belgian Base SIM) and restore the iPhone as described earlier. iTunes will crash with an ‘unknown error’ message and once recovered you should see the the ‘Congratulations, your iPhone has now been unlocked’ message showing up.

You now have an unlock French iPhone! One small problem though, you still can't call anyone (if you live in a country where they don't sell the iPhone yet).

Jailbreak

You now have an unlocked iPhone but a software bug in 1.1.2 causes the iPhone to crash when it needs to look for a matching phone number in your contact list. It has something to do with the iPhone not knowing which phone formats to use in countries where they don't sell iPhones yet.

The easiest solution is to jailbreak the phone and install the iWorld package (page no longer exists) which fixes this. We started with the idea to buy an iPhone and unlock it the normal way but after lots of phone calls and support tickets the only way to make it work is to jailbreak the thing. Hopefully Apple will fix this bug in the following firmware update so that we can skip the jailbreak part next time.

I'm not really sure if you need a French iTunes account after all, we tried with a French one but maybe this wasn't really needed. So, no, the French iPhones are not country locked but yes, a software bug in 1.1.2 makes the iPhone crash in a country where they don't sell iPhones.