My July, 2009 Montana InBusinessMonthly column
Update: 3/06/2011 this is old news; the iPhone is available in Montana with several different carriers. Read Mac Q & A: Which iPhone Should I Get
Have you seen iPhone ads on TV and in magazines and wondered why you can’t get an iPhone in Montana? It’s because Apple and AT&T have an exclusive agreement for the iPhone to officially work only on AT&T’s cell networks.
But one way to get an iPhone in Montana with a non-AT&T calling plan is through a wireless store on South Higgins, between Great Harvest and Hellgate High School, called Mumm’s Wireless. It’s owned and operated by Shawn Mumm as an independent, authorized dealer of a nationally known cell phone company.
Using an iPhone without an AT&T contract is a legal gray area, and as a result, Mumm doesn’t advertise iPhones as available through his business, and he is very clear about what he does and doesn’t do to get iPhones to work.
But getting an iPhone in Montana is reasonably easy. Mumm told me the first step is to get an iPhone on the secondary market, such as online through eBay, which lists hundreds for sale at any given time.
Then comes the critical part. The iPhone has to be “unlocked;” that’s modifying the iPhone’s firmware so it can work on any GSM (one of the major types of cell phone technologies) cell network, such as the one for which Mumm is a dealer.
If you’re handy, you can unlock an iPhone yourself with software downloaded from the different Web sites run by iPhone hackers. Just Google “hack iphone” and you’ll find lots of sites with lots of tutorials and software on unlocking and “jailbreaking” iPhones.
Apple considers unlocking iPhones to be a copyright violation and against your user agreement, but there are millions of unlocked iPhones in use around the world, particularly in Asia. And Mumm is very clear about unlocking: “I absolutely do not unlock iPhones myself or for anyone else,” he said.
If you don’t want to try your hand at unlocking or shopping for an unlocked iPhone, Mumm can get you an unlocked iPhone through an eBay supplier. (I’d suggest staying away from eBay and getting an iPhone through Mumm.)
Once you have an unlocked iPhone, the next step is getting a regular cell calling plan from Mumm with the usual, free bottom-of-the-line cell phone and the Subscriber Identity Module (SIM) card that goes with it. The SIM card holds your phone number and other account details. According to Mumm, a “cell phone is really just a host for the SIM card,” so all you do is swap the SIM cards and your iPhone works in Montana.
It’s easy: The SIM card is located under the battery in the free phone and slips easily into the iPhone. Mumm advises his iPhone customers to swap the SIM card back to the free phone to take it rafting or camping so you can leave your iPhone at home.
Now, Mumm’s cheapest calling plans don’t include data. That means you have to use the Wi-Fi capabilities of the iPhone to do Web and do e-mail, so you can’t use the Internet over the cell phone link. But he says he has perfectly happy customers who use his inexpensive calling plan and who wait to find a Wi-Fi network to access e-mail and the Web. Or, you can pay more and get a data plan from Mumm; he will explain it all to you.
New iPhones are out now, which should drop the cost of earlier phone models, Mumm says. And new iPhone software will require a new round of unlocking if you want the newer capabilities in the iPhone you already have.
So the iPhone can work in Montana, and Mumm’s Wireless isn’t the only wireless representative who can help get you one, but if you’re interested, look for the sandwich board with the picture of the iPhone on the sidewalk on South Higgins.