Thursday, November 25, 2010

Using the iPhone 4 in Israel

[Updated May 11, 2012 -- For the latest information, go to my most recent post on this matter.]

I've been updating my blog entry entitled "Using my iPhone in Israel" for over a year now, and it seems the time has come to file a separate entry instead of continually updating that single entry which started in June of 2009 (when I had an iPhone 3G) and was most recently updated in October 2010. Since that particular entry still gets lots of hits, I'll add a link to that old post and here update the curious reader.

Basically, I'm going to give up following the news on the iPhone 3G and 3GS and just stick with the iPhone 4 from here on out. Counter-intuitively, the route to success is much easier with one of those older phones, not nearly as complicated as the situation with the iPhone 4. And since the phone I now own is an iPhone 4, I see no need to monitor the situation on those older phones any longer. If you want more information on the older phones, go back to my original post.

[In fact, as of April 4, 2012, I am not going to update this entry any more. There are now numerous ways for applying an untethered jailbreak with baseband preservation for iOS 5.0.1 to the iPhone 4 & 4S (sn0wbreeze, redsn0w, absinthe), as well as unlocked iPhones available directly from Apple. There is simply nothing more to report. There are no so many practical ways to possess an unlocked iPhone 4 & 4S that I consider the matter closed. Thanks for reading.]

(NOTE: This entire post applies to the iPhone 4 supplied by AT&T and designed for use on GSM networks, with a microSIM card slot on the right side. The new iPhone 4 on Verizon works on a completely different network architecture known as CDMA and does not handle SIM cards.) 

To quickly sum up my earlier post: if you want to use your US-based, AT&T Wireless-networked iPhone 4 in Israel inexpensively (not paying AT&T's international rate which is $1.99/min and $.50/SMS msg), your best bet is to unlock your phone, making it a universal GSM phone. Then, when you go to Israel purchase at a cell provider kiosk a Pay-As-You-Go GSM SIM card. For example, I use a plan provided by Orange Israel called Big Talk (here's a link to the Hebrew page). I've got my own personal phone number in Israel, which doesn't expire because of non-use. Voice and data prices are much more reasonable with a domestic PAYG card, more like $0.22/min for a domestic Israeli call and an additional $0.07 to US or Europe; SMS to Israel at $0.14 and to the US at $0.24. You can even get 3G with a data plan (please see the update below, dated July 16, 2011). Free wifi abounds, so don't worry about the Internet when in Israel. Even if you are going for a short visit, it pays to go this route.

Sounds wonderful, right? The trick is that you must unlock your iPhone 4 so it can accept a non-AT&T GSM microSIM card. And that ain't easy. Before you can unlock your iPhone, you need to jailbreak it. As I said in my previous post:

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.

Neither of these steps is easy. But be warned: avoid all the web sites claiming to unlock your phone for a fee. THEY ARE ALL SCAMS, either claiming to do something that can't be done, or charging you for something you can do yourself.

Right now (and I mean literally as-of-today -- things change quickly in this field), anyone who has bought an iPhone at AT&T or the iPhone store in the last 4 months is shit out of luck. To put it more precisely: if your iOS is above 4.0.1 and your "baseband" is above 01.59.00 you are stuck & are unable to unlock the phone. (<--See updates below)

(To find out what your iOS and baseband are, go to Settings-->General-->About. Look at "Version" for your iOS and "Modem Firmware" for your baseband. Just what is a "baseband"? It's the software and separate processor that handles most matters pertaining to the phone's antenna and phone/"radio" functions.)

iOS 4.0.1

(See Updates below -->) Now, if your iOS on your iPhone 4 just happens to be 4.0.1 (and no higher - not even one decimal!) there is a way for you to unlock your phone and take it to Israel or anywhere else in the world, buy a local PAYG microSIM card, and have a great time paying significantly cheaper rates. Here is a link to a reliable web site with clear step-by-step guides. One other thing -- until the Israeli cell companies start selling microSIM PAYG cards, you'll need a specialized cutting tool, very inexpensive and easily available, to cut the plastic down to the right size to fit in the iPhone 4's microSIM slot. See my earlier post (Update 3) where I discuss the cutting tools.

As of a few days ago (I'm writing on Nov. 25 2010) Apple released iOS 4.2.1 with baseband 3.10.01. If you are in my situation (a successfully unlocked iPhone 4 using an "old" jailbroken iOS and unlocked baseband), you cannot touch this latest firmware upgrade, just like you could not go near its predecessor iOS 4.1. Instead we have to wait until the hackers out there produce an unlock for the new baseband, and a few other tricks. When that happens I will be very happy, and I promise I will let you all know.

Update 1 (Nov. 29 2010): A new version of the unlocking software ultrasn0w was released this past weekend, and while it provides a path for unlocking the iPhone 3G & 3Gs on the latest iOS firmware 4.2.1, it does nothing to help iPhone4 users using an iOS above 4.0.1 or a baseband above 01.59.00. Basically the baseband of the older phones is very different from the baseband of the iPhone4, and the hackers haven't released a solution. So for iPhone4 users, nothing has changed with this release of new unlocking software.

iOS 4.2.1

Update 2 (Feb. 4 2011): Finally! It took a bit of doing and a few nerve-wracking false starts, but I was able to upgrade to iOS 4.2.1 and preserve the 01.59.00 baseband using the latest version of a program called Tinyumbrella. Then, using the jailbreaking software greenpois0n RC5 I was able to create an untethered jailbreak, and then, with ultrasn0w, an unlock. Only took 2 hours. It is not something I would recommend for noobies. Here is the somewhat complete step-by-step. Before you do anything, save your blobs! ha-mevin yavin. And if you don't understand what a blob is, you probably shouldn't try this.

Update 3 (April 2, 2011): Nothing has changed, despite the release of two further iterations of the iOS, now to version 4.3.1. The best situation for the solution I am proposing is to remain on iOS 4.2.1 with the preserved baseband of 01.59.00. There are rumors of a jailbreak for 4.3.1, but I've read nothing credible about an upcoming unlock for the newer basebands. So if you were able to follow my guidance - stay put.  

iOS 4.3./1/2/3

Update 4 (April 4, 2011): And just a few days after my last update, it all arrived! This morning an untethered jailbreak which preserves baseband 01.59.00 was released. The Windows package is called Sn0wbreeze 2.5, and if your are going to preserve your 01.59.00 baseband look to this step-by-step for how to do it. I have hit a few minor snags along the way but nothing awful, no worse than any previous jailbreak. There are some issues, like the strange behavior of the signal bars which now always report out at one bar no matter how strong your phone signal might be. But a new version of ultrasn0w is in the works which will fix that trivial inconvenience. The key is this: if your iPhone 4 baseband is higher than 01.59.00 there is still no way you can unlock your phone, and if you jailbreak now, you will likely lose the possibility of unlock FOREVER! If you have been following along in my suggested path, you still have a preserved 01.59.00 baseband on your phone, and in that case you can jailbreak using sn0wbreeze. The ultrasn0w folks are working on later iPhone 4 basebands -- but the new version due to hit in a few days doesn't deal with that problem -- it's just coming to help fix some of the problems associated with the latest jailbreak of iOS 4.3.1.

(Update 5, July 16, 2011): I've been in Israel for a bit more than a week, and unlike my compatriots who were constantly searching for WiFi hotspots or paying 80 NIS per calendar day for hotel WiFi that came and went as the gods saw fit, I bought an Orange PAYG data plan for 99 NIS at a convenience store and thereby gained access to a modern 3G network at the hotel, on the bus, in an open field, and basically anywhere I placed my foot. The 99 NIS plan gave me 5 gigabytes of data stream per 30 days, which is a tremendous amount of 3G data. I could stream television or movies and still have data to spare. I probably could've bought a cheaper plan, but still I feel that given the price of hotel WiFi or the silliness of running around leeching off open networks, I did the right thing. Only problem was that after I bought the data plan at the convenience store, I discovered I needed to go to the Orange service center to trade out my old 2G SIM card for a newer model 3G micro-SIM. I couldn't do this simple act at an Orange store and therefore had to go to the Orange service center (in this case in Givat Shaul) to make the free upgrade. I also had to use the Orange over the phone menu system to add the data plan, and then reboot the phone. But as soon as I did so, I was connected - all the time and everywhere. I highly recommend this simple and elegant solution.

So just to confirm: Orange does make micro-SIMs for the Big Talk plan, and you can have both talk minutes and 3G data on your JB and unlocked iPhone4. Just don't expect the fools at the local Orange store to know a thing about it. If you don't already have a 3G card, you can get it at the service center. Period. It all works.

Two limitations: I can't get FaceTime to work on the Orange network (no surprise given the proprietary aspects of FaceTime), and I receive an error message telling me to contact Orange when I tried to create a hotspot out of my iPhone4 (that makes sense too, given the bandwidth issues of hotspotting). Other than that, I can't discern any issues.

iOS 5.0/5.0.1

Update 5, April 4, 2012:  This might be the final update for this long-running saga. Why final? Well, first, there is an untethered jailbreak with baseband preservation available for iOS 5 & 5.0.1, released a few months ago (Look for latest version of redsn0w or sn0wbreeze if you are using an iPhone 4, absinthe if running an iPhone 4S.). Once you jailbreak, there is an unlock available, though still for no better than baseband 1.59.00.
Second, and more importantly, Apple is now officially selling both the new iPhone 4S and the older iPhone 4 in a natively unlocked state, and while it costs a lot of money (for example, an unlocked 32 GB iPhone 4 sells for a whopping $649 at the Apple Store), it is a practical solution to the unlock problem. The unlocked 32GB 4S sells for $749.


  1. I just visited Orange in the 7 Stars mall in Herzilya. As per the representative this program was canceled two months ago. :(

  2. Can I go to an Orange, Cellcom or Pelephone store and ask them to assist me to jailbreak and unlock my 3GS on 4.1 so that I can buy a their sim card for use in Israel?

  3. -Le Chef: Strange that Orange should tell you that, because their web site says it exists:

    But you're over there, and I am over here in the US, so it could be a lazy or uninformed salesperson, or else their web site needs updating.

    Ernie: I so very much doubt that any legal vendor of the iPhone would agree to help you in jailbreaking your phone. My experience is that since Apple regards jailbreaking as voiding the warranty (& the user agreement), you would be hard pressed in the US to have anyone in a store help you jailbreak. What happens in Israel, however, might be different.

  4. Indeed, Orange in Hadera will not assist you directly but did "suggest" an independent cell phone store that could "help" me with my 3GS and I am a happy camper. Now for the iPhone 4 I also have on iOS4.1 with 02.10.04 baseband. What do you suggest? Should I attempt to unlock the phone here and cut down a standard sim card or live with my other iPhone 3GS?

  5. Ernie, glad you found a solution. BUT, you are not going to be able to jailbreak & unlock your iPhone 4 if you have baseband 02.10.04, at least not for a while. SO DO NOT JAILBREAK IT! The problem is that there is no way I know of to downgrade your baseband back to 01.59.00, and currently the ultrasn0w package out there can only handle 01.59.00 (it can handle higher number basebands, but only on the 3 and 3GS -- the basebands are completely different on the iPhone 4). The rumor is that once a nice stable untethered jailbreak for iOS 4.3.1 arrives (and it arrived this morning), the ultrasn0w folks will produce a new package to handle more advanced iPhone 4 basebands, So wait until either you find out that they have done so, or I report the "all clear." We might have an answer very soon...

  6. Im in Calif. now. just bought a 3GS iphone, version 4.3.1 (8G4) Modem firmware 05.16.02.

    Going to spend a couple of months in israel this summer.
    1. Do I need to get a cutter definitely?
    2. can I get a PAYG card here in Ca before I leave?
    3. I can get the phone unlocked here.(ATT store person gave me name of place that charges about $40). Or should I wait till I get to Israel?
    4. can I get a data plan in Israel for 2 months?

  7. izi,

    No problem with what you are reporting. You don't cut your SIM cards down for the iPhone 3GS - that is only for the iPhone 4. Your baseband is fine for the latest version of ultraSn0w. Why you would pay $40 to someone to jailbreak is beyond me, but I have heard that there are people who have made for themselves a nice living for doing something we all can do ourselves. I'd do the jailbreak right now & not wait until you get to Israel. There are no 2-month contract plans in Israel; instead you should simply use the PAYG option. It's more expensive than a local contract, but it is a ton cheaper than AT&T. And yes, for a lot more money than you need to pay, you can buy a PAYG card while here in the US. The following link is not a recommendation, simply something I found with a quick Google search:

    Hope that helps. Have a nice trip/

  8. Ok, so does this mean that my iphone4 vers 3.3 cannot be jail broken or unlocked for use with a service provider in Israel?

  9. Shoshana,

    Unlocking right now is not possible unless you have baseband 01.59.00. But I am curious - how can you have a iPhone4 with iOS 3.3? That seems impossible, given that iOS came out with the release of the iPhone4. No matter - the key is your baseband. Anything higher than 01.59.00 and you can't do it by way of the JB+unlock method I write about.

  10. I have an ATT iPhone 4, but will not be using it as a cell phone in Israel. Will it still pick up wifi, etc., even if I don't jailbreak it? If so, do you know what the effect will be on my ATT plan?


  11. Hi jrich,

    If you stay in complete airplane mode, with the phone part completely shut off, and keep the wifi on, you can certainly use that. But just to makke sure, in Settings -> Network, make sure you shut off Enable 3G and Data Roaming.

  12. BingoProf - thank you for this very useful blog! My mother spends in Israel a few months every year and her locked ATT 3GS was useful only in wifi mode. Now it is simply DEAD (after water bath) and I was thinking to buy her an unlocked iP4 in US. She has an Orange plan already. But where are those Orange Service Centers? do you have a link (in Hebrew or any other language)? Thank you

  13. do you know if there is a plan cheaper than the 99NIS for 5GB?

  14. mykeletfy:
    Looks like now all there is now is a NIS 149 card for 20GB for 30 days

  15. not completely random: Thanks for the compliment! The page you are looking for is
    and you need to look specifically for locations called
    מרכז שירות

  16. Hi there -

    Just to be clear...if I bring my iPhone 3G to Israel...only adding a Orange BigTalk SIM card won't do the job...I would need to JailBreak/Unlock my iPhone as well, correct?

    Thank you kindly for any input here - Yossi

  17. Yes Jeff. If you have an AT&T 3GS that hasn't been somehow unlocked, putting an Orange BigTalk SIM in it will simply not work.

  18. if i buy a US unlocked iphone 4 and bring it to israel to use with an israeli sim card for the year- will i be able to use internet or just wifi? and is it crazy expensive to have an unlimited data plan bc it's an american phone with a local israeli sim? also, will i be able use ios5? thank you so much for your help

  19. can you unlock an american iphone 4s right now in israel? if so, how? thank you!

  20. Zoe,

    I've not tried it, but take a look at this:

    The minder of the site Redmond Pie provides very reliable information. If what he proposes is beyond your ability, then for now I would say the answer is no.

  21. redhot7171,

    If you buy an unlocked phone in the US, you can get a SIM card from one of the providers in Israel, like Orange, which contains both talk time and a data plan. If you get such a plan, like the PAYG Big Talk plan, you buy minutes (as many as you want, you just keep topping up the phone) and a fixed amount of 3G data per month. If you are there for a full year, maybe there is an actual plan.

  22. Thanks for the great info. I was not 100% sure about using the Orange Sim on an iPhone. Since this is an older post I wanted to add that AT&T will unlock your phone for you if you are no longer under contract. It's a quick phone call to AT&T and a backup/restore in iTunes.