This is a guest blog post by Sherman Nicodemus. I’ve agreed to share a series of blog posts here on “Moving at the Speed of Creativity” this week. Hope you find this series helpful! If you have questions about this post I’ll be glad to answer them via comments here. Full disclosure: I’m not affiliated with iPhoneModem or any jailbreak application software developers, and neither is Wes. I’m sharing this information here freely because this is software and a tethering method that’s working for me.
Digital creativity is a curious thing. People who are creative geeks naturally explore the boundaries of the technologies they use, but some companies today use restrictive user agreements in an attempt to prohibit tinkering, hacking, and repurposed use of their hardware products as well as cellular data networks. Until the release of the iPhone 3.0 firmware, that was the case with “tethering” with the iPhone. Tethering means connecting your mobile phone to your computer, either through a wired connection (like the iPhone’s USB cable) or through a wireless connection (WiFi or Bluetooth.) Depending on your wireless carrier and the country in which you live, tethering still may be prohibited today on your iPhone, but there are several ways it can still be done. As with other articles and blog posts about procedures which could involve “jailbreaking” your iPhone, an opening disclaimer is needed. In addition to violating ISP and hardware manufacturer EULAs, jailbreaking can void your hardware warranty. While it is generally possible to simply re-install the provided Apple iPhone firmware using iTunes, using iPhone firmware which has been manipulated/changed by 3rd party software programs is always a risk for which you should assume personal responsibility. There are also financial, BILLING risks if you utilize large amounts of Internet data using an unauthorized, tethered connection. (Generally it’s a bad idea to stream lots of video from a home Slingbox or other device over a tethered 3G connection, since you can readily exceed a 5GB monthly bandwidth quota and get the attention of service provider network watchdogs.) If you use any of the ideas or software links mentioned in this blog post, consider yourself duly warned.
On the official Apple.com website, an overview of tethering with the iPhone is available, along with step-by-step directions. Apple’s provided directions on how to tether an iPhone to connect your computer through its Internet connection include the following caveat:
NOTE: Additional fees may apply. Contact your carrier for more information.
As of this writing in March 2010 in the United States, AT&T remains the only “official” carrier for iPhone users and has NOT officially approved rate plans for iPhone owners wanting to tether. In other countries with other providers, iPhone tethering IS legal and does not require jailbreaking. Rob Galbraith’s June 2009 blog post, “iPhone OS 3.0 introduces Internet Tethering, Find My iPhone,” provides a thorough overview of tethering with detailed screenshots and step-by-step instructions. For U.S. iPhone users tied to AT&T, at least for the present, these instructions won’t work.
U.S. iPhone users with AT&T can still take advantage of this tethering functionality in several ways, but BEWARE.
OPTION 1: FREE BUT MORE RISKY METHOD (jailbreak not required, but NOT recommended)
Some websites were created after the release of iPhone 3.0 firmware (in both beta and final versions) which run scripts, enabling tethering functionality on an iPhone. These scripts may inadvertently disrupt and mess up your iPhone’s voicemail functionality, however. Thomas Ricker wrote about this on Engadget in June 2009. John Herrman’s post for Gizmodo in June echos this warning about visual voicemail problems. I have tried one of these websites myself, and indeed the warning about visual voicemail disruption was accurate. My iPhone DID tether wirelessly (via bluetooth) with my Apple laptop, but my visual voicemail never worked again on my iPhone 3GS until I restored my iPhone firmware to the default / factory settings. It was exciting to see tethering work on my iPhone and laptop, but it was NOT worth the hassle and angst caused by the eventual full firmware restore which was needed to “fix” my visual voicemail again.
This option of using website scripts to enable tethering is appealing because it does NOT require jailbreaking your iPhone. I do NOT recommend it, however, because visual voicemail is a core functionality of the iPhone and it’s not a feature I think most users are willing to give up– EVEN if that means readily being able to tether their iPhone to their computer.
OPTION 2: JAILBREAK AND USE $10 IPHONEMODEM SOFTWARE
The option I’m using successfully WITHOUT any apparent bad side effects (like a loss of visual voicemail) and DO recommend to other iPhone users with service providers not currently supporting tethering is jailbreaking your iPhone with blackra1n and running $10 iPhoneModem software. Here are the steps and links you’ll need to do this, if you want to give it a go. Bear in mind the risks / warnings I outlined initially!
Step 1: Jailbreak
When people talk about “jailbreaking” their iPhone, there are two different kinds of hacks they may be referencing. The English WikiPedia article for “Jailbreak (iPhone OS)” explains the difference:
Jailbreaking is a process that allows iPhone and iPod Touch users to run any code on their devices, as opposed to only that code authorized by Apple. Once jailbroken, iPhone users are able to download many applications previously unavailable through the App Store via unofficial installers such as Cydia; Icy; and Installous… Jailbreaking is distinct from SIM unlocking, which, once completed, means that the mobile phone will accept any SIM without restriction on, for example, the country or network operator of origin. Jailbreaking, according to Apple, voids Apple’s warranty on the device, although this is quickly remedied by restoring the device in iTunes.
“SIM unlocking” is also referred to as just “unlocking” at times. I’ve never attempted a SIM unlock, and it is NOT required for the iPhone tethering option I’m detailing here. “Jailbreaking” is required, however.
There are several ways to jailbreak an iPhone, and the good news is this process has gotten MUCH easier over time. The iPhone Dev Team is one group which develops and distributes software to both jailbreak and SIM unlock iPhones. The team has their own WikiPedia article where you can learn more about them.
I’ve used the iPhone Dev Team’s jailbreak software several times, and while I’ve been able to successfully jailbreak my own iPhone as well as iPhones owned by friends, the process has always been LONG and a bit nerve wracking. One reason for this is the process: To use the Dev Team’s software, you must download a compatible version of Apple’s iPhone firmware to your local hard drive FIRST. SECOND, users run the dev team’s “PwnageTool” to modify the downloaded iPhone firmware so it’s jailbroken. THIRD, iTunes will run with the PwnageTool software and install the jailbroken firmware on your iPhone, which will now include the Cydia application. Cydia is one of several “app store” applications for jailbroken / non-Apple authorised software programs. A variety of tutorials are available on YouTube and other video sites demonstrating the steps to follow when jailbreaking an iPhone with the Dev Team’s free software. Some commercial applications ARE sold through Cydia and other jailbroken iPhone app stores, but the Dev Team jailbreak software tools themselves are free.
As with many other computer / software technologies, it is important to be aware of malware risks as well as scams. Jailbreaking software is no exception. The Dev Team posted about the proliferation of iPhone jailbreak scams several weeks ago. The risks and challenges inherent in jailbreaking also relate to the methods by which PwnageTool software and other jailbreaking software programs are distributed. BitTorrent is used for legal file sharing, but it’s also used for lots of illegal sharing. The iPhone Dev Team maintains a link to “official torrent sites” for their software on their main blog/website, but the use of BitTorrent client software is inherently risky.
Given this landscape of jailbreak risks and challenges, the availability of Blackra1n jailbreak software (for both Windows and Macintosh users) comes as an amazing breath of fresh air. You can read more about Blackra1n on WikiPedia, as well as the official Blackra1n blog. Engadget has posted about Blackra1n updates as they become available. Jailbreaking with Blackra1n (as long as your iPhone firmware version is supported) is as easy as downloading the installer for your operating system, running it with your iPhone plugged into your computer, and waiting about 60 seconds. When you’ve gone through the LONG process of jailbreaking with the Dev Team’s QuickPwn software, the speed and ease of the Blackra1n jailbreak seems like a miracle!
If you opt to jailbreak with any method, you want to be careful NOT to immediately install new iPhone firmware updates when they become available. Jailbreak software developers are generally pretty quick to come up with new hacks for new iPhone firmware versions, but the process can take several weeks. Of course there is no guarantee Apple won’t develop an uncrackable / unhackable iPhone firmware version SOME day, but so far (as of this writing) that hasn’t been the case.
Step 2: Install, Configure, and Buy iPhoneModem
After you jailbreak, you need to run the Cydia installer application. The first time you run it (as well as subsequently, depending on updates) it will connect to the Cydia server and download new “packages” as well as updates. Often you’ll have a choice whether to install all updates or just core/required updates. On a WiFi connection these don’t take long. After updates are installed and you restart Cydia, choose the SEARCH option and enter “modem.” With the latest packages updated in Cydia installer, you should see “iPhoneModem” as an available program. Choose to install it, and it should appear as another application icon on your iPhone.
iPhoneModem requires three things: The iPhone application, a client application which runs on your Apple or Windows-based laptop, and a license key. The client application can be downloaded from the iPhoneModem website. The computer client software does not require a key, but the iPhone application does. Thoughtfully, the program will run in a trial mode so you can verify connectivity / functionality before purchasing. Currently a license key is $9.99, and the iPhoneModem website accepts PayPal. After purchasing a license key, you will receive it via email or you can get it on the iPhoneModem website. You’ll use your IMEI “International Mobile Equipment Identity” number when you purchase your license, which is a unique 15 digit code viewable on an iPhone by choosing System Settings – General – About.
After you’ve installed these software applications on your iPhone and laptop, you’re ready to go with tethered Internet browsing! iPhoneModem client software creates an ad-hoc wireless network, which you’ll need to join on your iPhone. It then permits your laptop running the client software (as well as other computers within WiFi range, which is a GREAT bonus on car trips!) to also access the connection. The steps are:
- Run the iPhoneModem software on your laptop.
- On your iPhone, connect to the default “iPhoneModem” ad-hoc WiFi network created by the client software. (You can customize this with a different SSID and a password if desired.)
- Run the iPhoneModem software on your iPhone (it is called, “Modem.”)
That’s it! I’m sure to many, the prospect of jailbreaking sounds very scary and formidable, and it is not something that should be undertaken lightly. Still, the availability of Blackra1n is nothing short of a revolution, in my view. Be aware that in its 3.0 software iteration, iPhone Modem software does NOT appear to run in the background. To use it, therefore, you have to have the application open and CANNOT run other applications on your iPhone at the same time unless they run in the background like the Apple-provided iPod player software.
Hopefully AT&T in the United States will officially authorize iPhone tethering sometime soon. I’d like to hope they’ll do that WITHOUT adding additional charges for the service, but that’s probably analogous to hoping home loan interest and overall inflation rates aren’t going to rise in the next year. All are probably inevitable.
Two final notes: Don’t be confused by the term “tethered jailbreak” which you may see on some websites. This does NOT refer to Internet tethering, as I’ve discussed in this post. The Blackra1n blog post from March 8, 2010, explains:
A tethered jailbreak means that once your iPhone is successfully jailbroken with blackra1n, you’ll need to connect your iPhone to your computer and rerun blackra1n* if you ever need to reboot your iPhone or your iPhone loses battery charge.
Last of all, if you’re contemplating an iPad purchase soon with 3G connectivity, don’t count on Apple officially supporting iPad tethering.
If you’ve had experiences, good or bad, with tethering your iPhone for Internet access using iPhoneModem or another software program / method, I’d love to hear about it.
Good luck, and happy tethered surfing! 🙂
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