Thursday, June 18, 2009

Using my iPhone in Israel

[Sept. 12, 2010: I've been blogging for almost 5 years about all sorts of things, and no post has received more hits than this one I wrote in June, 2009, about how I figured out how to use my US-based iPhone in Israel without having to use ATT's ridiculously expensive international plan. For some reason, when people type in the Google phrase "use iPhone in Israel" this 2009 post gets placed very high on the results list - hence all the visits. I've since updated this original post 4 or 5 times (the last time was on August 26, 2010), and I recommend that if you have stumbled on this post you should read it in its entirety for history and background. This post is valid still, and I will try not to repeat information as I continue to add to it. Essentially, depending on which iPhone you have (3G, 3Gs, or 4), and then again depending on which version of the phone's software you are running, and finally depending on which "baseband" you are using, there is probably a solution for you.]

(For folks who want the latest info on the iPhone 4 specifically, scroll down to the last couple of updates [starting with UPDATE 3, dated August 4, 2010] in this posting; also, most recently, look here)

This is a nerdy blog post coming up.

I am pleased as all get out to report that I have been using my iPhone 3G here in Israel with nary a glitch. No, I am not paying through the proverbial nose by using AT&T's partnership with local providers and thus I am avoiding phone calls costing $1.60 per minute. I actually am using an Orange (Israel) Big Talk SIM card in my phone, the same pay-as-you-go (sometimes known as PAYG) card I've been using for the last few years in an old-style beaten-up "universal" phone, which I can now toss out. Now the main feature I am missing on my iPhone is 3G data connectivity, but that is easily compensated for whenever I walk into a wi-fi reception zone, which abound in Tel Aviv.

I first saw this set-up last year when I was here in Israel on sabbatical, and met some native IT workers brandishing their iPhones-on-Orange-network here in a country that still as of today does not have an authorized seller of iPhones (though that will be changing very soon). In the intervening year since my sabbatical I bought a 3G phone, and then jailbroke it and unlocked it so that I too could saunter around Israel with an iPhone. To "jailbreak" is to alter (read: increase) access to the phone's operating system and perform modifications on the phone not allowed by Apple and its monopolistic app store. To "unlock" a phone is to render the iPhone into a universal multi-band GSM phone. And it works perfectly. A few provisos: I could not upgrade my phone firmware any higher than 2.2 (right now 2.2.1 is the standard, and on Friday 3.0 will be released). I also can't use a baseband other than the somewhat antiquated 2.28.00, so my iPhone is a bit behind the curve, but what I lose in version envy I make up in usable functionality. I won't be upgrading to 3.0 until the dev-team (the folks who do all this interesting hacking) perfects the jailbreak and the new unlocking software, to be called "ultraSn0w."

That the 3.0 firmware will soon be broken and unlocked is due to a group of dedicated programmer/hackers (dev-team), some based here in Israel, who are engaged in a daily struggle with Apple over the artificial limits that Apple puts on its phone software. I've randomly asked dozens of iPhone users I know in the States whether they have "jailbreaked" and it seems like I am the only one who has done so. But let me tell you -- having a working iPhone in Israel is a great thing and still produces an "oh, wow" reaction from locals.

UPDATE 1: December 2009: Ran jailbroken OS 3.1.2, unlocked on baseband 04.26.08 (one iteration behind the current baseband), and everything went well once again like a charm.

UPDATE 2: March 2010: In England for a week and bought a PAYG Orange SIM for my iPhone for 10 BP and picked the dolphin plan for internet and data. Worked perfect! Got 3G reception all over London and in Oxford. Cool!

UPDATE 3: August 4, 2010: Now that I have an iPhone 4, I awaited the new jailbreak (which came out in late July, just days after a Federal court ruled that jailbreaking is not illegal, as Apple had contended), and as of early this morning, the release of ultrasn0w 1.0-1, which unlocks the iPhone 4 running iOS 4.0.1 as well as the completely redesigned baseband. Here is a link to a complete step-by-step guide. Now all I will need is a a cool SIM cutter, which cuts my "old" BigTalk SIM card from Orange Israel down to the iPhone 4's new micro-SIM size. 

Whatever you do, do it quickly. Apple is going to soon release an update of the iPhone software that will close the backdoor which allows the phone to be easily jailbroken by simply pointing your Safari browser to a specific website (as specified in the step-by-step). Once Apple closes this "vulnerability" it may take the jailbreakers a bit of time to find the next vulnerability in the operating system.

Everything you need to jailbreak and unlock an iPhone is available as of today (August 4), but hurry up! The give-and-take between the hackers and Apple is always in flux, and the solution of today may not necessarily be the solution of tomorrow. And remember! Once you jailbreak, never upgrade your firmware or your iTunes program on your PC or Mac until the jailbreakers give the "all clear." 

UPDATE 4: August 26, 2010: 2 developments:

1) I got a SIM to micro-SIM cutting tool from which was drop-shipped from a factory in China. I think the total cost was something like $15. I cut both my Orange UK and Orange Israel SIM cards using the tool and they both worked perfectly in my unlocked iPhone 4 using iOS 4.0.1. 

I've looked at the web sites of the 2 main GSM providers in Israel (Orange & Celcom) to see if either offer a micro-SIM PAYG card, and I also checked the major Hebrew language chat board devoted to the iPhone in Israel ( and while I can confirm that micro-SIM cards are sold by both companies (after all, once the iPad was marketed in Israel, micro-SIMs became a necessity), neither company seems to market yet a PAYG micro-SIM. Most of the Israeli forum participants also discuss exactly what I am suggesting: cut your SIM down to micro-SIM size with a cutting tool. 

Which brings me to point 2:

2) The dev-team has announced that they will not be providing a jailbreak for the latest iOS, numbered 4.0.2. In the cat-and-mouse game between Apple and the jailbreakers, the decsion has been made by the hackers not to play this round. This is understandable, because the only reason Apple released 4.0.2 was to close out the security "leak" which the jailbreakers had found in earlier iOS's whereby one could jailbreak over the web. The hackers don't want to "waste" an exploit (you can be certain they know other ways to get into the guts of the iPhone operating system) on a trivial upgrade. Which means that if you go out and buy a brand new iPhone 4 pre-loaded with 4.0.2 (which is the case now), you are shit out of luck, because no one I have seen has come up with a way to downgrade a brand new US iPhone 4 pre-installed with 4.0.2 back to 4.0.1. You'll probably have to wait until Apple unleashes an iOS that actually offers tangible improvements (dubbed iOS 4.1 - due out Sept. 8) and the dev-team produces a jailbreak. If you have a 3G or 3GS right now it is not a problem to jailbreak iOS 4.0.2, but you have to use a different method than the OTA (over-the-air) solution unveiled in late July. ha-mevin yavin.

UPDATE 5: Sept. 26: I'm still stuck on jailbroken iOS 4.0.1, even as iOS 4.1 has been widely deployed and Apple has announced that iOS 4.2 is on the way in November. The dev-team simply hasn't released its new jailbreak yet; but rumors on the net suggest it is a matter of days or weeks before the jailbreak for 4.1 is issued. Also, Apple released a new version of iTunes this week, numbered 10.0.1, and according to the experts, it is "jailbreak safe." But avoid all the web sites that offer a jailbreak for you iPhone for money. These are malicious sites. 

For us iPhone 4 "unlockers" (people who jailbreak primarily so they can unlock) there may be a further complication - the baseband (the software running the actual phone component of the device) needs to be manageable by the unlocking software, and the simple fact that a JB might soon be available for iOS 4.1 does not guarantee that an unlock will be available. The baseband of 4.1 is different than 4.0.1, and currently unlockable. Remember: Jailbreaking is one thing; unlocking is another. So stay tuned...

UPDATE 6: October 10, 2010: Today on 10/10/10 a long-awaited jailbreak exploit "dropped." The jailbreak for the iPhone 4 running iOS 4.1 came from a surprising source (someone who a few months ago announced he was "out of the business"), is officially named LimeRa1n, and early reports indicate that the system is a touch buggy (there have already been 3 updates to the software today). Most importantly, there is no known method in the jailbreaking software to "hold" the baseband at an unlocakable version. So even though with great fanfare there is now a workable jailbreak for the iPhone 4 running 4.1, I still say "WAIT"!

I've posted a new entry over here, continuing the saga. 


  1. I have an original iPhone. Will I need to jailbreak it?

    I won't need any data plan except for texting. I'll use wifi only for net access.

    Your thoughts?

  2. I have a new 3GS 32mb from September 09 and will be in israel for 6 weeks. Where can I have it jailbroke-unlocked here or in Israel.? Using the Orange sim means getting a local number I assume.

  3. Mark, it is important to know what version number OS you have on your iPhone 3GS, and even more importatntly what your baseband is. All this can be found by going to Settings>General>About. If your OS Version is higher than 3.1.2 and your Modem Firmware (baseband) is higher than 04.26.08, then you have a very hard task ahead of you, which would involve downgrading your OS and downgrading your baseband. I am not even sure there is a way to downgrade the OS from 3.1.3 to 3.1.2. The jailbreaking community is basically waiting for OS 4.0 to come out, so don't expect any solution anytime soon. It is fairly easy to jailbrak 3.1.2, then downgrade your baseband, then applt the unlock. But if you are not a techie-type, you may not like all the steps. Sorry...

  4. BingoProf - was the SIM cutter you ordered from Meritline delivered to Israel?
    Was there an import charge?
    Does it have a converter after you have cut it that allows you to use the SIM in a non-iPhone phone?

  5. EndStream: I ordered the cutter in the US, so I can't answer your first 2 questions. The package I bought included a couple of adapters which allowed placing the newly cut microSim back into a "full-size" Sim slot. So yes, there is a way to preserve backward compatibility, and typically such plastic holders come with the cutter.

  6. I have a jailbroken iphone 3g that I unlocked on OS 4.2.1 using the ipad baseband of 6.15.

    I tested it out using a t-mobile sim card which worked successfully after installing the t-mobile carrier package. Is there a similar carrier package for israel or will any sim card simply work when I'm there on vacation later this year?

  7. Alan,

    Don't understand what you mean by "iPad baseband" and "carrier package" on a 3g. If you are jailbroken and unlocked using ultrasn0w, and if you put in a T-Mobile SIM card and it worked, then you'll be fine in Israel.

  8. I just moved to Israel from NYC and have my iPhone 3GS phone. I got it jailbreak/unlocked here and it seems to work fine on the Orange network except for 3G connection. Would you know why this happening? The new sim card works in blackberry and a pelephone sim card also works with data on my iPhone. Any advice?

  9. Hey quinticquarter: The Orange Big Talk PAYG card doesn't include 3G network services. I know in the UK you can get a PAYG card that includes 3G, but in Israel you have to buy a separate DATA card (there are 2 available). See for details.

  10. Hi there
    I have an Iphone 3gs tied to the UK Orange network. Do you think I could use this successfully in Israel with an Israeli Orange Sim without Jailbreaking the phone?

  11. lloydfaber:

    Orange UK delivers to you a locked phone. Apparently, after 3 months on the contract you can ask (for a fee - £20.42) for Orange to unlock your phone. At least that is what I see on the Orange UK web site.

  12. Hi!

    I will be spending ten months in Israel starting in September. I have the original iPhone with AT&T but have to buy a new one because AT&T no longer supports even calls on it. I plan to get the iPhone 4.

    My question is: Should I stay with AT&T (who I hate) or go with Verizon (who I would prefer)?

    Also: Will I be able to jailbreak such a new phone?

    AT&T uses GSM so I can switch out my SIM chip to use a local service, but if local carriers also support CDMA then I could likely use the Verizon iPhone (which I think I would prefer if it weren't too much more $$).

    I need to by the phone before I leave because my current one can't make or receive calls 80% of the time, and I need to use the new phone after I return from Israel, so buying the phone in Israel is not really an option.

    I would also like to be able to use data for email and web surfing while in Israel, but if I have to stick to WIFI spots I can live with that.

    Do you have any recommendations?

    Thanks in advance!!


  14. David,
    You are right about the differences between AT&T and Verizon - the former is a GSM phone and the latter is a CDMA phone. To the best of my knowledge, there are no CDMA networks left in Israel, with Pelephone having abandoned selling new CDMA phones last year (though they will support CDMA for a while longer). Thus, if you buy an iPhone in the US now with the intent to use it in Israel, your best bet is to buy an older 3GS. I steer you away from a 4 because of the baseband problem, namely a brand new 4 will have a baseband that at least for now cannot be unlocked. I've seen ads that AT&T is offering the 3GS with contract for $49. If you get the 3GS, you can jailbreak and unlock.

  15. JORGE,
    If it is an unlocked phone, then you are all set to flip out the SIM card and get a PAYG SIM in Israel. If you buy an unlocked 4, remember you will need a microSIM cutter, for as far as I know, the PAYG cards sold in Israel are the full-sized SIM.

  16. Saw your posting and hope you don't mind my asking...about getting my iphone 3Gs to work in Israel: I successfully ran redsnow and now have cydia on my iphone 3Gs (4.3.3, firmware 05.16.02).
    But the iphone will still not recognize the new "orange" SIM card. I had a new SIM card put in. The Orange people say the iphone is not unlocked. What else am I supposed to do to unlock the phone?
    Help will be greatly appreciated!

  17. BingoProf, I hope you can help me. I successfully ran redsnow and now have cydia on my iphone 3Gs (4.3.3, firmware 05.16.02).
    But the iphone will still not recognize the new Israeli Big Talk SIM card. I had a new SIM card put in. The cellphone experts say the iphone is not unlocked. What else am I supposed to do to unlock the phone?
    Help will be greatly appreciated!

  18. JKO,
    It is not enough to jailbreak. That is only step 1. Now you must install a small program from cydia called ultrasn0w. I quote:

    Once you are done with the jailbreak, you can now unlock your iPhone on the older baseband using Ultrasn0w 1.1-1 from Cydia. To do this:

    *Start “Cydia” on your iPhone.
    *Touch on “Manage” tab on the bottom.
    *Now touch on “Sources”
    * Touch on “Edit” and then on “Add”. You will be prompted to enter a url source. Type “” (without quotation marks) and touch on “Add Source” to add this repository if you haven’t already.

    Cydia will now automatically update your sources by following a series of automated steps.

    * After installation is completed. Search for “ultrasn0w 1.1-1” in Cydia and install this application. This app will automatically unlock your iPhone so that you can use it with any carrier.

    *Now simply restart your iPhone and voila! you should now have a fully unlocked iPhone !

  19. HI bingoProf,
    i'm in the US on vacation, i live in israel. I'm interested in buying an iPhone4 and using back home; but i'm totally lost on the process. i don't want to buy something here in US, and then find out it doesn't work on the Israeli networks. any suggestions?

    besides the price, what is the difference of buying an iPhone in Israel as opposed to the US? Will i still need to jailbreak?

    i hope u can help me.

  20. Hi mlister,
    Apple started selling unlocked iP4s about 2 weeks ago, starting at the unsubsidized price of $650+. That is the price point you need to be looking at, not the subsidized contract-based prices of $199. I do not know what the price of a phone is in Israel, but don't all the local carriers have fairly competitive contract-subsidized pricing? if your primary purpose is to a buy a phone here and then bring it back to Israel and put it on a contract, believe it or not, you might do better just getting a package in IL. I too can hardly believe what I am writing; it flies in the face of 30 years of experience about prices in Israel. Welcome to the developed world! :)