Unlocking the iPhone 3G With Proxy SIMs


In the interests of all those readers who need to unlock their iPhone 3G’s for use on different carriers, I donned my investigative hat and tested an iPhone 3G unlock that really seems to work.

While the iPhone Dev Team plunder the secrets of the mysterious baseband in search of the ever elusive software unlock, some of us regular users just can’t wait. In this article, I’ll run you through a typical hardware unlock process, highlighting some of the quirks and a couple of awful potential drawbacks.

As some of this is arguably questionable, The Apple Blog must warn you that you’re doing this at your own risk. Seriously. In fact, one iPhone 3G was totally borked in the process of testing this — almost relegated to a desolate Apple graveyard; nevertheless, in the interest of finding out if we really could unlock the iPhone 3G, we persevered.

Again, The Apple Blog does not endorse your attempts at any of what follows, it could ruin your iPhone. Furthermore, this is not an official solution and as such, it is totally unsupported by Apple. That being said, let the fun begin.

Hardware Unlock

What we’re looking at here is a hardware unlock, which may not be ideal, but it does the job. The unlock I’m investigating today is a hardware workaround for what is in reality a software issue. The perfect solution would be a software unlock — something which the iPhone Dev Team (a bunch of clever hackers not to be confused with official Apple developers) are working diligently towards.

In fact, by way of providing a bit of background on the subject of unlocking, while providing a final word of warning, the iPhone Dev Team had this to say on their blog earlier this year:

We’ve been monitoring the whole “SIM-card unlock” proxy-SIM situation… These sim mods so far seem very very very questionable… they use trickery of the GSM and UMTS network that is considered highly illegal in most countries and they rely on sending bogus IMSIs and various other nasty hacks to obtain service on your iPhone.

Proxy SIM

SIM PIG Proxy-Sim

SIM PIG Proxy-Sim

There are a variety of different hardware unlocks which tend to be referred to as piggyback SIMs or proxy-SIMs. The one I chose to test in this article is branded as Any Network. Unlike all the other proxy-SIMs, apparently I could just stick this one in my phone and be totally unlocked — no cutting, no updating, no hassle (or so I thought).

The proxy-SIM looks like a small circuit board in the shape of a regular SIM card with a chip at the top; it’s made out of what seems to be a very thin, bendy and tearable, plastic. The murky brown device certainly looks somewhat illicit and is designed to be squeezed in to the iPhone with your regular SIM card.


Now that we’ve got all the background details out the way, I’ll run you through what happened when I installed the Any Network SIM. My aim was to be able to use my Finnish iPhone — locked to Apple’s official Finnish carrier of choice — in the UK, using an unsupported UK carrier’s SIM.

  1. Although the folks at Any Network claim their solution is the only one which doesn’t require cutting my carrier SIM card, I did so anyway. The carrier SIM was cut in half and taped to the proxy-SIM. Placing both SIMs on to the tray and sliding them in to the iPhone seemed to be too tight a squeeze.
  2. Phoned tech support at Any Network, they suggest I use tape (done) and to keep squeezing it in. This ended badly, the SIM tray popped out, but the proxy-SIM and carrier SIM didn’t — they are stuck to the inside of the iPhone. Slightly tearful, I send my iPhone away to be replaced.
  3. After a horrific false start, my iPhone 3G is fixed and sent back to me a couple of weeks later…I also track down a new proxy-SIM. This time around, my plan is to make my carrier SIM card so thin that it comfortably sits in the caddy with the proxy-SIM. Using a scalpel, I spend a few hours delicately shaving away the layers of my carrier SIM until, despite looking like it’s been the victim of a particularly aggressive knife-crime, it is perfectly thin.
  4. My crafty scalpel plan worked. Both the SIM and the proxy-SIM are quite snug in the iPhone tray together. I begin sliding them in but discover it’s still a tight squeeze and, if I slide at the wrong angle, the proxy-SIM is liable to slide out inside my iPhone (thus repeating the horrific accident in step 1).
  5. I manage to squeeze the tray in to the iPhone. With a storm of nerves erupting in my tummy, I turn my iPhone on… invalid SIM. Disappointed, I sit staring at the screen, I did everything I could to make it work. Minutes later, as a sit in a dirge of disappointment, a tiny miracle happens: the invalid SIM message disappears. To the top left of the screen, my iPhone’s signal bar blinks in to existence. I have coverage.
  6. I decide the next thing to do is to test my signal. I call the operator number, it rings, it works, I’m through. With my iPhone 3G unlocked, I find the 3G settings on the carrier’s site — entering these in to the Network settings menu on my iPhone unlocks almost all of the device’s full potential: I can’t get visual voicemail but I can surf the net, download e-mail and even listen to Last.fm.
  7.  Plugging in to iTunes for my first unlocked sync, I discover a new problem. iTunes sees my proxy-SIM as an invalid SIM card (in retrospect, this is to be expected). After a little bit of fiddling, I find out that it works if I first eject the SIM tray (and thus the illicit proxy-SIM) and then plug in to iTunes.
  8. While syncing, I also happen upon a method for inserting the SIM and proxy-SIM in the iPhone 3G which seems much safer. I first put the proxy-SIM on the tray and slide the tray halfway in to the iPhone; then the carrier SIM is slid in to the iPhone separately and squeezed in to place on top of the proxy-SIM. This sounds somewhat unpleasant, but, for me, seems to be a less risky way of inserting the device.

After several weeks of testing, I can reveal that the unlock does indeed work. Of course, as the iPhone Dev Team noted, this is a questionable solution and indeed a nasty hack (especially when considering that it can lead to physically damaging the hardware). Nevertheless, it really works and, barring occasional drops in 3G signal, is problem free in practice.

Have you tried a hardware unlock for the iPhone 3G? Perhaps you’re waiting for the iPhone Dev Team’s software unlock? Share your thoughts about iPhone unlocking in the comments.



Does the Rebelsimcard unlock the iPhone 3g v2.2? In the US does it work on all other carriers other than T-mobile? Does it work in other countries?


As long as the phone hardware supports it then it will work fine with 3G. Unfortunately for those of us in the states, the iPhone doesn’t work with TMobile’s 3G Network because they decided to license space in the 1700Mhz spectrum and the iPhone radio utilizes 850, 1900 and 2100 Mhz UMTS/HSDPA. :( Boo TMobile!!!


Yup, I just recently bought one, but I’m still unclear whether it supports 3G or not, does anyone know ?
The benefit of the Rebel is the pkey-vista programmer you get when you buy the set, should be future-proof.


Rebelsimcard has already released a firmware update for their cards to allow use with 2.2


Does anyone know if a 3G iphone with 2.0.2 firmware can be unlocked?


Oh and thank you for your help.
The proxy sim is out of the question.

Many thanks


I thought it would only be locked if I had activated it, is this not so?

Olly Farshi

@Johnny – The handset will be locked to O2 in the UK.

Frankly I wouldn’t risk sending over the iPhone and the proxy sim from the UK. For two reasons:

1. It’s can bit a little risky slotting the device in to your iPhone, it’s even possible to damage the handset.

2. I would imagine that to get the most out of the iPhone, your son would still need an iPhone contract with AT&T, one which has a data allowance, 3G etc. The iPhone may not live up to its full potential on his current contract.

I think the best thing to do is either buy an older generation iPhone (the original iPhone), which are quite cheap, unlock it here in the UK (using a software unlock) and send it to the US for him. Or perhaps just get him an iPhone 3G on a legitimate AT&T contract.

I have to reiterate – this method of unlocking that I discuss has nothing to do with jailbreaking. You physically place a device inside the iPhone, slotting it in with the SIM. That is all.

As some commenters have noted, there may be additional benefits to jailbreaking the device also, but this is a separate affair.


I have a question, I live in the UK and just got the new 3G phone yesterday, I intend to send it to my son in the USA for christmas.
after talking to him he tells me he is with AT&T in the USA, Does this mean i do not need to unlock his phone, And can he activate it there without problems?

He is only 12 and has no idea how to hack and jailbreak and such.

any advise would be greatly appreciated


I’ve been using proxy sims (rebelsimcard, AnySim and turbosim) for around three months now and can say that they all work exactly as intended. At least in the US. When syncing with iTunes you actually don’t have to remove the card. If you put the phone in “Airplane Mode” it will accomplish the same thing. If you wish to update to OS 2.2 you will in fact have to Jailbreak your 3G to keep the Sim-Card Hack working (Have to use the full PwnageTool NOT QuickPwn). Apple’s 2.2 release updates the baseband on 3G iPhones and effectively renders all previous Proxy Sim solutions unusable. With PwnageTool’s custom ipsw I am currently running a rebel sim with TMobile and am enjoying 2.2 daily.



Did you use the same proxy-SIM (from any-network) in the end, or did you try a different brand?

Andy Huang

Some people mentioned that there is a possibility that 2.2. makes the hardware unlock stop working, do you know if there’s any truth in that?

Olly Farshi

@avery – The ‘unlocks’ you’re talking about are not unlocks, they are jailbreaks. This means you can install and run un-approved apps on your iPhone (amongst other things).

An unlock means that your phone is unlocked for use on various carriers. So instead of being stuck with AT&T you can switch to Verizon. Or, if you’re in the UK, you can jump from O2 to T-Mobile or Vodafone.

With the hardware unlock, you still have to use iTunes for syncing and you can only run approved apps (installed via iTunes).

The tools that the Dev Team released only jailbreak the 3G. There is no unlock available at the moment.

This article discusses unlocking for the iPhone 3G which is different – and separate – to jailbreaking.


I’ve had my share of failures with the sim card unlocks, finally I’ve settled for the new i-smartphone from october 2008 (black card which doesn’t require you to cut your sim as the chip is on the reverse).
You don’t need to remove it before syncing, works just fine, flight mode works, and most important – my 3G network is fully supported, or at least I wasn’t able to find any problems thus far (German E-plus network with Simyo as the provider)
All the cards I’ve tried before this one, including the programmable via Pkey reader universal sim, failed miserably when attempting to use the UMTS network. I’m pretty happy with it.


John, You don’t need to worry about jailbreaking affecting your warranty, if there are any issues with it there is no problem flashing it back to standard and thereby removing ny trace of jailbreaking


Just curious how well this proxy sim does indeed unlock the iPhone. Many of the chinese/korean/japanese phones that use these sims (for years now I might add) dont have full features unlocked. In some cases it only unlocks basic Call/Message features while leaving the internet crippled.


The proxy SIM is used to unlock all 3G iPhones in China – have been using mine for the past 3 months without an issue – even works in Japan, Hong Kong, & Korea with a China Mobile SIM. Taiwan didn’t work for some reason. As straff said – either QuickPWN or PWNAGE will prevent the SIM card error. I prefer QuickPWN.


i have an att iphone but now moved to europe. will iphone providers here work with the att phone?


So, I don’t really understand what you mean by the ‘elusive’ software unlock. QuickPWN, as well as PwnageTool worked for my unlocks, and can be found here : http://blog.iphone-dev.org . Worked on my 3G, did not work on my iPod Touch 2G, although I hear that there’s a QuickPWN for 2G in the works.

brand infected

I still haven’t decided whether to switch operators (> T-Mobile) or get the iPhone unlocked (legally). For me the described hardware hack seems cumbersome and having to take out the SIM before syncing with iTunes is also not really an option. Let’s hope it will be sold without netlock in more countries soon.


xsim, turbosim, ismartphone 2008, yessim… the list goes on and on… some work better than the others but they all remove the carrier lock.


Olly, If you use pwnage tool, you can use it to activate so it won’t come up with invalid sim when you plug it into itunes. My ATT iphone works fine with my O2 sim this way!! (although it came up with that error when I used quickpwn so had to use pwnage tool)

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